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ABL

ABL: Zamboanga MLV handed heartbreak by Singapore, misses semis


Zamboanga faced an uphill battle going into their last three games of the ABL Invitational.

The Valientes had been on a roll ever since two-time NBA champion Mario Chalmers joined the squad, winning four of their last five outings prior to the final leg of the elimination round in Vietnam. The only loss came against the Hong Kong Eastern last February 7 in a game where Antonio Hester was no longer in the lineup and Kenmark Cariño was sidelined by an injury.

But going into the final leg of the elimination round in Vietnam, the Valientes needed to win against Surabaya and Hong Kong Eastern and hope that host team, the Saigon, would defeat Singapore. This would set up a do-or-die match-up between the Valientes and the Slingers for the last semifinal spot.

The game against Louvre on Monday, saw the return to the ABL of Renaldo Balkman who previously suited up for the Alab Pilipinas with whom he won a championship in 2017-18.

Balkman immediately stamped his class as he wound up with 28 points, 15 rebounds, and six assists. Despite playing with just one import, the Zamboangueños easily dispatched the also-ran Indonesians, 83-69.

The Valientes came back the next day facing a tougher foe in the Hong Kong Eastern which was still in the running for the top spot in the standings. Zamboanga overcame the woeful shooting of Chalmers who went 1-of-15 from the field and relied on a balanced attack to get their revenge against the Eastern, 71-65.

Balkman once again starred with 27 points, 14 rebounds, and four steals to lead five other players who scored at least six points.

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The Heat then did the Valientes a favor when the Vietnam squad came from behind to defeat the Slingers, 71-68, on Wednesday, thus turning the Thursday game between the Valientes and the Slingers into a knockout match.

The Valientes previously fell to the Slingers, 79-87, in their first encounter last January 8.

The Slingers boast three quality reinforcements that have been lighting up the stat sheets.

Kentrell Barkley, a 6-foot-6 product of East Carolina in the US NCAA who previously suited up for the Rio Grande Valley Rapids in the NBA G-League, is not only scoring heavily with 26.3 points but also registering 7.6 boards, 6.5 assists, and 2.2 steals. Xavier Alexander, the former ABL MVP, is norming 14.1 points, 7.5 rebounds, 7.2 dimes, and 1.2 steals.

Seven-foot center CJ Gettys, who played for ACG Forca Leida in the Spanish second division, is good for 20.5 points and 11.4 boards per game.

The Valientes were missing the services of former University of Cebu FSA, 6-foot-9 Mohamed Tosh Sesay. The third Zamboanga import could not make the trip to Vietnam due to visa concerns. His absence would turn out to be critical in their return match against the Slingers on Thursday.

Zamboanga got off to a strong start in the knockout game and even led, 35-28, in the second quarter. But early questionable fouls called on Chalmers by the referees rendered him ineffective and stifled the momentum for the wards of Coach Bobidick Delos Santos, enabling the Slingers to catch up and tie the count at 49-all at the end of the first half.

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The second half saw the Slingers start pounding the ball down low and dominating the boards. The Singaporeans raced to a 72-64 lead and appeared to be on the verge of pulling away in the third quarter when an 8-0 run by the Valientes once again knotted the count at 72-all. A Gettys halfcourt buzzer-beater gave the Slingers a 77-72 advantage heading into the last quarter.

The final canto would be all Slingers who immediately built a double-digit lead, 85-74, which proved to be too much for the Valientes to overhaul.

The Slingers, as expected, ruled the paint, outrebounding the Valientes, 50-30. This translated to the Slingers converting 44 points in the paint as against just 36 by the Valientes. The Slingers also had 15 second chance points while the Valientes just had 6.

Balkman paced the Valientes for the third straight game with another double-double of 25 points and 11 rebounds. Chalmers put up 19 points and eight assists, while Jeremy Arthur had 16 points and James Kuwekuteye contributed 14 built on four triples.

Barkley was unstoppable as he erupted for 41 points for the Slingers, while Gettys was too much in the low block with 24 points and 18 rebounds.

It was a sorry end to the campaign of the Junnie Navarro-owned squad from the South who were hoping for a Cinderella finish in their first foray into international 5-on-5 basketball.

Navarro was still pleased with the performance of his team. “It was a good run. We fell short, but we gave everything. Who would have thought that we would become contenders in our first stint in the ABL?” he told Tiebreaker Times.

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He added “Next week, we will host the Vis-Min Open Championship. It will be the first time in Zamboanga basketball history that NBA players will play in Zamboanga City. We are elated also that our local, home-grown players like Rudy Lingganay, Joho Belorio, Denver Cadiz, and Jeff Bernardo were given the opportunity to shine on the international stage.”

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