Strong Group holds off UAE for winning start in Dubai tilt

Strong Group prevented an embarrassing collapse by surviving the United Arab Emirates national team’ spirited comeback, 91-87, at the start of the 32nd Dubai International Championship at the Al Nasr Club early Saturday morning (Manila time).

Fil-Am Sedrick Barefield of PH-Strong Group drives against UAE’s Qais Omar Alshabebi. (Courtesy of Herbert Iponla)

The Philippine representative in the 9-team tournament seized control of the contest behind a blistering second quarter rally but still had to fend off a last-ditch run from the locals to prevail, much to the delight of the good-sized Filipino crowd in the venue.

But not Strong Group coach Charles Tiu and the very young team owner Jacob Lao.

Tiu actually blamed himself for the team’s not-so-good finish, saying: “It was an ugly win for us. I take responsibility and apologized to my team for taking my imports out a little early.”

“I thought we had the game in the bag up 14 in the last 2 minutes, and I was thinking ahead wanting to rest our imports for the game tomorrow,” said Tiu. Refusing to go down without a fight, UAE unleashed a fiery 11-0 run inside the final three minutes of the game that cut the once 16-point deficit (90-74) down to just three, 90-87 with 20 seconds left.

Good thing Fil-Am Sedrick Barefield was there and he split his charities in the dying seconds to finally seal the deal for the team backed by Mighty Sports and Acrocity.

“Our All-Filipino lineup didn't do too well down the stretch. We need to do a better job of taking the ball, rebounding and getting back on defense. Those are the key areas we struggle with,” added Tiu.

To avoid the late struggles they encountered against UAE, Tiu and Lao said they have to build more chemistry and learn to move the ball better and faster in their game against Al Nasr from Libya on Sunday, 1 a.m. (Manila time).

“Barefield was great offensively. He really carried us today together with Shabazz (Muhammad),” said Lao.

Muhammad stamped his class with 24 points, seven rebounds and four assists forming a deadly one-two punch with Barefield who wound up with 23 points, five rebounds and five assists.

Renaldo Balkman was also solid with a double-double of 12 points and 11rebounds while fellow former NBA player Nick Young added 13.

With just two weeks to prepare, Strong Group had to shake off some jitters in the opening frame where it trailed, 27-19 at the end of the first 10 minutes of action.

But the PH club rallied mightily and took a comfortable 52-41 lead at the break and even stretched it to its largest at 20, 70-50, with 3:30 remaining in the third quarter.