Seri Mutiara Champions Cup 2017: Day 1

The Seri Mutiatra Champions Cup 2017 started off with some exciting games and a player erupting for almost 50 points in his debut! Check out the action here!

Seri Mutiara Champions Cup 2017: Day 1

Game 1: Kano Pillars (Nigeria) vs Link Tochigi Brex (Japan)

Both the Pillars and Tochigi Brex are both champions of the local leagues in their respective countries. They were both grateful for the opportunity to get out of their comfort zone to play against international competition around the world here.

“We’re really elated to come play in this place,” said Kano Pillars Head Coach Sani Ahmad. “I’ve been to China with the National Team but our club just plays around Africa. This is a good experience for them and we appreciate to the organizers.”

“This will give experience to my players. Two of them have never traveled outside but this will open up their eyes.”

“In Japan, there are not many chances to play against players from outside the country,” said Link Tochigi Brex Coach Kenji Hasegawa. “It’s good experience for the younger players.”

“This is a good opportunity for us,” Tochigi Brex star, Yuta Tabuse, says in agreement. “Like coach said, we can’t get experience like this in terms of size. We have a chance to become better this tournament.”

Photo Credit: Onvisa Thewphaingarm

This turned out to be a battle between two opposite polars where the fundamentally sound Link Tochigi Brex went up against the extremely atheltic Kano Pillars.

True to form, the Brex started the game with crisp passing to create wide open opportunities especially for star player Ryan Rossiter. The Pillers fought back making a flurry of shots in the last two minutes of the first quarter but still trailled Tochigi Brex 23-20.

The Pillars maintained their shooting form to start the second quarter and jumped to a 30-27 lead. Tochigi Brex fired back with a huge 13-0 lead from there and held on to a 43-34 lead at half time.

Tochigi Brex were completely in tune and ran the fast break to perfection, expanding their lead to 62-47 at the end of the third quarter.

The Pillars made one more push in the final quarter and came to within 5 points, but that would be the closest they would ever get. The Champions of Japan went on to beat the Champions of Nigeria, 75-69.

Despite the loss, Coach Ahmad (who sported the best outfit of the tournament so far) still feels that the Pillars still have plenty more to display in the coming days.

Photo Credit: Onvisa Thewphaingarm

“It took 5 hours from where we were to take off. We finished our championship on Saturday night so it was a very hectic thing but I think the boys tried. Unfortunately, two of our best players are with the national team playing in Tunisia right now. So thats why we only have 10 players.”

The Pillars still have a positive mindset heading into the remaining games.

“Any comp you go it’s not just to participate, you must try to win,” chimes Coach Ahmad. “Thats what basketball is about, you must not be thinking of losing. Whether you are playing the best team in the world, it doesn’t matter.”

“We take it one step at a time,” says team captain Ogenyi Matthew Onmonya. “It’s really an opportunity for us, just like coach said. Some of us are [used to] just travelling around Africa. From what I saw, this tournament is a bit different so I think this is something to add to the experience we already have.”

Coach Hasegawa was content with the Brex’s performance but he saw room for imrpovement.

“When we control the pace, when we’re being aggressive, we played well. But when they’re more aggressive on the rebounding end, we don’t have an advantage.”

Player of the Game: Ryan Rossiter
20 Points, 12 rebounds, 4 assists

Photo Credit: Onvisa Thewphaingarm

Rossiter was the top scorer for Tochigi Brex, but that was not why he is the player of this game. His ability to pass the ball and to know where his team mates are makes him a perfect fit for the team, which should come to no surprise considering how long he’s been with the team.

Game 2: Beijing Fly Dragons (China) vs Changwon LG Sakers (Korea)

Despite the overflow of global and continental stars, this game was all about Stephon Marbury and it was clearly evident from the start. As the two teams shook hands and mid-court and traded souvenirs, Marbury happily took the Sakers’ baseball cap and instantly wore it with a certain New York City “swagger” drawing laughs from the crowd.

Photo Credit: Onvisa Thewphaingarm

There was plenty of starpower oozing on the court from the start as Stephon Marbury, Shavlik Randolph, and Josh Powell were warming up. The former NBA players took most of the shine, but Asian stars like Zaid Abbas, Kim Jong-Kyu, Cho Sung-Min, and Chin Min Yang also demanded the fans attention as well.

This was bound to be another great matchup and the entire MABA stadium could feel it.

The Fly Dragons rushed out to a quick 9-2 lead over the Sakers with a little bit of contribution from everyone. The Sakers were able to cut back into the game with a dominant inside performance by Josh Powell who had 8 points and 4 rebounds in the quarter. The tempo would start to pick up as the two teams got out quicker in the break. The quarter ended with the Chinese club up 20-15, but the game was closer than the score suggested.

Powell continued to carry the Sakers opening the quarter with 7 points. The Sakers finally took the lead when Powell finished off a delicious behind-the-back dime from Seong Woo Jeong. The solo 7-0 run seemed to wake Fly Dragons out of their slumber, especially an enraged Shavlik Randolph who scored 6 straight points while sporting a bloody nose.

Photo Credit: Onvisa Thewphaingarm

Kim Jong-Kyu retaliated on Randolph by backing him down in the post and throwing down a monstrous dunk. Randolph’s furious efforts might have resulted in a scoring boost for Beijing, but it also led him to picking up a technical foul which was also his 4th personal foul towards the end of the first half.

Zaid Abbas of the Fly Dragons threw in the last punch of the half with an open corner three to give the Dragons a 40-31 lead at the half.

With Powell and Marbury back on the floor for both teams to start the half, the Sakers were the one to come out the gates on the right foot with two straight midrange jumpers from their big men. The Sakers added another three-point shot before the Fly Dragons were able to score their first point of the half on a free throw by Abbas. Having gone almost 5 minutes without a field goal, the Fly Dragons were forced to bring Randolph back into the game, who was only one foul away from disqualification.

Almost halfway through the 3rd quarter, Josh Powell nailed two free throws to complete the rally and give the Sakers the lead. The Fly Dragons regained momentum and took a 5 point lead before getting derailed with another technical foul for touching the ball after a made basket. It wouldn’t slow the Fly Dragons down by much as they tore away in the open court to hold on to their 9-point halftime lead, ending the quarter 59-50.

Marbury started the fourth quarter more aggresively, making a cool jumper and jokingly jawing the with the Sakers bench afterwards. He racked up two more assists and another mid-range jumper, pushing the Fly Dragons lead to 14 quickly in the final interval. What had previously been a close game was slowly turning one-sided as Marbury shifted to another gear.

Whether it was a strong drive to the basket with the nimble finish or operating the picks for an open three, Marbury did it all to get his team ahead 75-60 with the final 5 minutes to go.

“I was tired you know,” Marbury said after the game when asked why it took him until the 4th quarter to start playing more aggresively. “I’m 40 years old now. We got in late last night and I didn’t go to bed until about 4:30.”

“I didn’t really have that rhythm. I was taking shots that I normally make but I didn’t have my legs under me. I knew I was going to be a little rusty at the beginning but once I got my legs under me in the second half, I started picking my spots based on how they were playing me.”

Photo Credit: Onvisa Thewphaingarm

They were going under me so I was getting the pick lower and lower. Then I could take a closer shot and then gradually from making that little foul line shot, I pulled back behind the three. So it’s just basically picking the spots for me.”

The Sakers wouldn’t back down easily and cut the lead down to 78-69, even as they started resting Kim Jong Kyu and Cho Sung Min with less than 2 minutes remaining. The Korean clubbed tried to conjure another rally, but the deficit was too large. There was still much more basketball to be played in the coming days and they needed to manage their minutes carefully.

In a tightly contested game from start to finish, the Beijing Fly Dragons came out with the win over the Changwon LG Sakers 82-69.

Player of the Game: Stephon Marbury
19 Points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 0 turnovers

Photo Credit: Onvisa Thewphaingarm

Shavlik Randolph did much of the dirty work during the first three quarters that teams when toe to toe, but it was Marbury’s adjustments in the 4th quarter that gave the Fly Dragons the extended lead leading to the win.

Game 3: Guangzhou Securities Long Lions (China) vs KK Split (Croatia)

The defending champions, Guangzhou Long Lions, surprised the field by not only having just one American import on the roster, but also not starting him as well.

Chinese National Team Player Ju Ming Xin drew first blood emphatically with a baseline drive two handed slam. Moments later, Pavle Marcinkovic returned the favor by forcing a turnover and throwing it down on the break. Mike Scott made a strong impression early on, either scoring or assisting on all of KK Split’s points as the teams were tied at 8-8.

Guangzhou relied on their speed to get out on in the open court and finish while KK Split carefully picked their spots in the halfcourt. Neither style of play were able to get a clear advantage over the other, as the 1st quarter ended with KK Split in the lead 16-15.

KK Split slowed the tempo down to their liking which kicked started a 7-0 run to start the second quarter. Their lead would only continue to expand as the Guangzhou Long Lions struggled to get back in their running game. The stalling game worked well with KK Split who jumped out to 36-23 lead at half time.

Things didn’t look better for Guangzhou in the second half with Mike Scott dropping two three-pointers in the first two minutes. A little over halfway through the third quarter saw the defending champions down 52-31. By the time the quarter ended, KK Split had already built up a 62-36 lead.

Guangzhou made pressing attempts to comeback into the game, but the lead had already gotten too big. KK Split went on to win the game 75-51.

“We won the basically by our defence,” KK Split’s Head Coach Ante Marovic said. “We played very tough and we got easy points.”

It was a rough start for the defending champions, but General Manager Xiao Yang understands what his team is going through and what they are attempting to do.

“Last year when he had a full roster and we won a championship,” says Yang. “I think that left a good impressions to all the fans in Malaysia.”

“But because our imports have some visa problems, they could not attend this tournament. As you all know we just changed head coach this year and we brought in some new players. So we’re starting to build our team chemistry.”

“Even though we lost the game, I’m still pleased about our players and their spirit. They didn’t give up on defence or on offence.”

KK Split’s win over the defending champions suddenly puts a target on their backs as the team to beat, but Coach Marovic clearly stated what he is focusing on.

Photo Credit: Onvisa Thewphaingarm

“We must stay focused on ourselves.” Coach Marovic says. “I have no expectations at all [for this tournament], we are first focused on ourselves to achieve the goals we have set. We must work to improve. These games are nice and important but we must focus on ourselves.”

Player of the Game: Mike Scott
22 Points, 3 rebounds, 6 assists

Photo Credit: Onvisa Thewphaingarm

It was a team effort from KK Split, but there were times when Mike Scott was able to shine with his nifty ball-handling and crafty passing.

Game 4: Fubon Braves (Chinese-Taipei) vs NS Matrix (Malaysia)

Keith Hornsby of NS Matrix joked around at the press conference after the game, all smiles and laughter. That’s the kind of mood anyone would be in after the game he had just had against the Fubon Braves.

The fans had come in a bit early for this game to see their home team play at MABA Stadium for the first time in the tournament.

Jaleel Roberts brought the home crowd to their feet after opening up the scoring on offense and pinning a shot on the backboard on defense. NS Matrix kept the Fubon Braves back-pedalling with their fast offence spearheaded by Hornsby who scored 15 points in the quarter. Hornsby’s heroics cooled down after a while, allowing the Braves to get back in the game on a run led by Jet Chang and John Bohannon. It was Hornsby again who punched in a three-point shot to give NS Matrix the lead at the end of the first quarter, 22-21.

Photo Credit: Onvisa Thewphaingarm

Jeff Viernes came into the game as a sub and didn’t take long to get into his groove, dropping two three-point shots early in the second quarter. The pace of the game kept speeding up to the delight of NS Matrix whose players were more light on their feet. Hornsby thrived running up and down the court while Fubon’s Garret Siler struggled to keep up. The Braves were able to keep the lead from getting too big, but the game was still being played at NS Matrix’s tempo. NS Matrix held the lead going into halftime 48-41.

Once the game started to slow down in the second half, the Bohannon/Siler big man combo started to become more efficient. They gobbled up offensive rebounds and drew defenders to crowd into the paint, opening up space for Jet Chang and Joeseph Lin, who knocked down two crucial three pointers to tie the game up at 60.

Photo Credit: Onvisa Thewphaingarm

Liew Wei Yuong came off the bench to provide some local support for NS Matrix and had 5 points in the game. Hornsby sparked NS Matrix once again, scoring 6 straight points for his team to end the third quarter with a 73-68 lead.

Opening the 4th quarter, the Braves were quick to tie up the game with a three from Chin Shan Hung followed by a dunk by Garret Siler. The teams were locked up and traded baskets for a while until a fastbreak and-1 layup by Jeff Viernes opened the floodgates for NS Matrix. The basket by Viernes started a 17-2 run which the Fubon Braves would not recover from.

NS Matrix went on to win the game 100-91.

In a high-scoring up-tempo game,  Keith Hornsby got in his groove and poured in 47 points off 5/8 three point shooting which has by far been the best individual performance in the tournament. Hornsby is a high-level player who played in NCAA Division 1 powerhouse LSU and in the NBA G-League who found his way to Malaysia through his Texas Legends coach.

“I guess as a basketball player, I’ve had games like that before and the thing is that when you start hitting shots, you kind of stop stressing about things,” Hornsby said of his explosive performance. “All the butterflies you have before the game goes away. The games comes more easily to you, you stop rushing things too much, and things just come a lot easier on the floor. You feel like you can make every shot and that’s kind of how I felt tonight. I’m hoping i’ll be consistent throughout the tournament.

“It’s just a first game so we’ll see how it goes.”

NS Matrix Coach Brian Lester couldn’t stop gushing over Hornsby’s performance during the press conference as well, but was pleased with the overall performance of his team.

Photo Credit: Onvisa Thewphaingarm

“Obviously we’re very happy to get a result in our first win,” Lester said. “We weren’t sure how we were really going to play. The Fubon Braves are very good. They have a lot of size that gave us problems. We managed to overcome our size problems and came up with a win.”

Lester also acknowledged the shortage of minutes played by the Malaysia locals in this game, where NS Matrix had plenty of stretches that saw all 5 imports on the court at the same time.

“The situation is the tournament is that this year compared to last year, the level is so much higher.” Says Lester. “It’s a really high level tournament. We’d like to give out players as much time as possible but at the same time we’re trying to win the game.

“The level that we have in the country to play in this tournament level is not quite there yet. So we’re trying to do the best we can to balance both trying to win and trying to give our players exposure.”

Player of the Game: Keith Hornsby
47 points, 5 rebounds, 6 steals, 5/8 3P Shooting

Photo Credit: Onvisa Thewphaingarm

I mean… come on. 47 points.

Seri Mutiara Champions Cup 2017: Day 1 MVP

Keith Hornsby, NS Matrix
Photo Credit: Onvisa Thewphaingarm

How was it going to be anyone else?


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