For the first time in the history of the Dubai Basketball International Championship, a team outside of the Middle East has won the tournament. And of course, a Philippine team ended the drought.
Mighty Sports-Creative Pacific completed a seven-game sweep of the 31st edition of the tournament, capping it with a 92-81 win over Lebanese powerhouse Al Riyadi, Sunday (Manila time) at the Shabab Al Ahli Club.
“It’s great. It’s a great feeling. I was there watching my brother [Chris Tiu] in the finals back in 2010 and losing a heartbreaker, and then our own semis loss last year. This year it feels nice. Just nice,” expressed Mighty Sports head coach Charles Tiu.
“This is for all the fans who have contributed to support us.”
Making this possible for the squad backed by Go for Gold, Oriental Group, and Gatorade was the duo of Andray Blatche and Renaldo Balkman.
Holding a slim 46-42 lead entering the second half, the two took turns in overpowering Al Riyadi. They combined for 10 points in a 15-3 spurt to gain the lead for good.
A turnaround jumper by Blatche early in the final frame then gave Mighty Sports its biggest lead of the game, 80-59.
Balkman, the 2019 Jones Cup MVP, led Mighty Sports with 25 points, nine rebounds, an assist, a steal, and a block. Meanwhile, naturalized Filipino Blatche had 21 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, and two steals.
“Andray and Renaldo were great. They led this team. They were true pros,” Tiu said about the two.
Dwayne Jackson, however, heated up, knocking down three straight triples to cut the lead down to 12, 87-75, with 4:20 left. But Thirdy Ravena, Blatche, and McKenzie Moore restored order for Mighty Sports, as celebration ensued among the team and the overseas Filipinos who watched the game live.
Mikey Williams finished with 13 points built on three triples. Imports Moore and Jelan Kendrick added 11 and 10 points, respectively, with the latter also grabbing six rebounds.
Other members of the squad include Jamie Malonzo, Isaac Go, Juan and Javi Gomez de Liaño, Beau Belga, Dave Ildefonso, Gab Banal, Joseph Yeo, Jarrell Lim, and Joaqui Manuel.
Part of Tiu’s staff are Will Voigt, TY Tang, Paolo Layug, and Dean Castaño.
“Just a great group of guys. We were a young team but we were able to just find a way,” Tiu shared about this batch of Mighty Sports.
Other Philippine teams that have tried but failed include the likes of Gilas Pilipinas, NLEX Road Warriors, and San Beda Red Lions.
This is Mighty Sports’ third attempt at the crown. Moreover, this is the first time Mighty Sports defeated Al Riyadi, falling 95-100 in overtime back in 2017, before losing 84-89 in the bronze medal game last year.
Michael Efevberha paced Al Riyadi with 26 points but was limited to just five points in the second half. Jackson added 20 points.
Mighty Sports 92 — Balkman 25, Blatche 21, Williams 13, Moore 11, Kendrick 10, Ravena 6, Malonzo 4, Go 2, Ju. Gomez de Liano 0, Belga 0.
Al Riyadi 81 — Efevberha 26, Jackson 20, Haidar 14, Arakji 10, Bawji 6, Saoud 3, Mneimneh 2, Townes 0, Akl 0, Gyokchyan 0.
Quarterscores: 24-20, 46-42, 74-57, 92-81.