Mahram (Iran), Smart Gilas (Philippines) win first games in Asia Champions Cup

Mahram Tehran opened their title defense with a strong 86-59 win over Al Jala’a (Syria), while hosts Smart Gilas (Philippines) easily defeated Al Ittihad (Saudi Araban) 101-69 on the opening day of the tournament.

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The competition is being held in Manila, Philippines.

Asia Champions Cup champions Mahram, who won the title the last two years, scored the first eight points of the game before Jala’a got their rhythm and kept the game close through the first quarter and a half.

But the club from Tehran, Iran displayed why they have won the title the last two years as they pulled away late in the second period and pushed their lead up rest of the way.

Afterwards, Al Jala’a had nothing but good things to say about Mahram.

“To me, Mahram is the best team in Asia. And today they just proved that,” said Mensur Bajramovic, Jala’a coach. “Maybe we could have got it closer if we had got a little higher in our percentages, but overall we lost to a quality opposition.”

Former NBA player Samaki Walker, who had a team-high 16 points in the losing effort added: “(Mahram’s) confidence and class just showed. Really our bad luck that we had to start against them. It’s not that we are bad, but they were better,”

Harder than it looked
Mahram coach Mehran Shahintab, however, called for caution.

“It looked a lot easier than it actually was,” he said. “We are just coming off a long and tiring season in Iran.

“Add it to the travel and differing conditions, I am really happy to start with a win.” said Shahintab, who was the coach of the Saba Battery team that won back-to-back titles in FIBA Asia Champions Cup in 2007 and 2008 before Mostafa Hashemi coached Mahram for the triumphs in 2009 and 2010.

Import Chris Williams led all scorers for the game with 34 points, on a blazing 15 of 17 from the field and Senegalese Samb Cheikh added 12.

Meanwhile, Smart Gilas Pilipinas gave the partisan crowd at the PhilSports Arena a lot to cheer about as they pulled ahead in the second quarter of their game against Al Ittihad and never looked back.

Much like Al Jala’a, Al Ittihad fought tooth and nail for the first quarter and a half, but naturalised American Marcus Douthit marked his debut in FIBA Asia competitions with a 10-point burst for the home side in the latter part of the second quarter, to give them a 45-31 advantage at the break.

The 2.10m center finished with 18 points, but it was his burst that tilted the scales firmly in Smart Gilas’ favour.

Japeth Aguilar led the scoring for Smart Gilas, and the game, with a 20-point haul that included some sparkling dunks which brought the crowd to its feet. The 6-foot-9 Aguilar converted 10 of his 11 attempts from the field.

“After all we are here to show some quality basketball to our own fans along with winning,” said Smart Gilas coach Rajko Toroman.

The 22-8 run to close the first half perched Smart Gilas firmly in control and they played for time in the second half.

“We didn’t have enough time to prepare for the competition, since our participation itself happened much late,” said Ittihad coach Ninad Krazdic.

“And they (Smart Gilas) are together for more than three years. The difference showed on the court,” he said.

In the day’s other games, Al Riyadi Beirut used a 15-0 run in the first quarter of their game against Al Shabab of the United Arab Emirates to blow the game wide open and register a 109-90 win.

Lebanon’s Fadi El Khatib and Ismail Ahmad played together in an official game for the first in almost three years and worked together to great effect, scoring four points each in the early run that put them in the driver’s seat.

El Khatib had 29 points and seven rebounds while Ahmad added 17 to go with nine assists and Jean Abdel Nour could not miss, hitting 10 of 12 field goal attempts.

Shabab coach Ahmad Omer cited inexperience and the opposition as reasons for the defeat.

“We are playing in this competition for the first time. And straight away we were up against one of the biggest names. All that worked against us,” he said.

American Courtney Fiels scored a game-high 39 points as a consolation for Shabab.

The day’s opening game saw last year’s semi-finalists Applied Sciences University (ASU) of Jordan come from behind to beat Iraq’s Duhok 74-66.

Up 41-33 at halftime, ASU went cold in the third quarter, getting outscored 17-8 but they bounced back in the final frame thanks to the scoring punch of import Jameel Watkins who had 12 of his game-high 25 points in the fourth quarter.

“I think we did alright playing the first game of the competition. The important thing is we won,” said ASU coach Fredrick Oniga.”

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