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Strong Group on brink of prelims sweep in Dubai

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FILIPINO-AMERICAN Sedrick Barefield, fresh from his outburst in the first two games form a scoring combo with Shabazz Muhammad, and Jerom Lastimosa. — UAE BASKETBALL FEDERATION

STRONG Group brought itself to within reach of a group sweep, walloping the listless Al Wahda of Syria with an 87-61 win in the 32nd Dubai International Basketball Championship at the Al Nasr Club Hall.

As in their first two games, ex-NBA gunner Shabazz Muhammad led the onslaught with 37 points and 11 rebounds as Strong Group stayed immaculate in three matches in Group A. 

Mr. Muhammad, the 14th overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, was on target from the get go in anchoring Strong Group’s 22-9 start en route to a coast-to-coast victory. The wards of coach Chris Tiu led by as many as 29 points for a fitting follow-up after beating the United Arab Emirates (UAE) national team, 91-87, and Libya’s Al Nasr, 93-76.

“Shabazz carried us offensively, he was great so we kept riding him but the defense was solid today and I am happy,” said Mr. Tiu, who also steered Mighty Sports to the Dubai title in 2020 before the pandemic.

Mr. Muhammad, who also served as San Miguel’s import in the PBA Governors’ Cup last year, was not alone in Strong Group’s barrage with fellow ex-NBA player and SMB reinforcement Renaldo Balkman adding nine markers and 11 boards.

Filipino-American Sedrick Barefield, fresh from his outburst in the first two games to form a scoring combo with Muhammad, and Jerom Lastimosa threw in 10 points apiece.

But more than yet another balanced attack, Mr. Tiu was delighted by the defensive clinic displayed by his charges after limiting Al Wahda to its lowest output in the nine-team tourney.

“We have been improving every game and this was our best defensive performance,” added Mr. Tiu as Al Wahda remained winless at 0-3.

The Philippine contingent, owned by former Ateneo guard and the Converge PBA team’s  assistant manager Jacob Lao with support from Mighty Sports and Acrocity, stands a chance of sweeping Group A against Lebanon’s Dynamo today.

Dynamo is also unbeaten in three games after wins over Al Wahda, 95-75, UAE, 103-68, and Al Nasr, 101-87. — John Bryan Ulanday