DAMASCUS (Syria) – Not even a raucous, partisan crowd could stop Al Riyadi from opening their FIBA WASL-West Asia League title defense bid in dominant fashion.

Laser-focused amidst the sea of orange that filled up the Al Fayhaa Stadium in the Syrian capital, the Lebanese powerhouse mauled Al Wahda, 96-67, Thursday night.

Game heroes: Main man Wael Arakji and Elmedin Kikanovic led the way with 18 points apiece, with the Bosnian center adding 10 rebounds and half of the team’s 6 blocks.

Sani Sakakini produced 16 points, spiked by two triples. Mohamad Bilal Tabbara added 10 points in the victory that saw all 10 players score at least 2 points.

STEP AHEAD Player of the Game: Arakji earned STEP AHEAD Player of the Game honors for playing a key role in Al Riyadi’s strong start that dictated the game’s pace.

Turning point: Arakji joined hands with Sakakini and Amir Saoud in steering the visitors to a fiery 17-2 start to open the game, setting up the eventual wire-to-wire win.

The home team still fought and even managed to get within five, 30-25, behind top big man Abdulwahab Alhamwi, but it would be the closest they’d get as Karim Zeinoun sparked a huge scoring run that saw Al Riyadi enter the halftime break with a 43-27 lead.

The game would never be in question since, with the defending Lebanese champions leading by as many as 33 points as they went on to rise on top of the Group B standings.

Stats don’t lie: Al Riyadi dished out 29 assists, leading to a 54.6-percent accuracy from the field. They also won the rebounding battle, 44-36, and took good care of the ball as they only committed 8 turnovers.

They said: “We executed our gameplan from the first moment. We prepared for this game very well. The players were ready mentally and physically to play and control the game from the beginning until the end, especially we had great numbers in this game — rebounds 44, assists 29, and 8 turnovers. This is very special for us. Defensively we kept them under 70 points. I’m so happy and satisfied.” – Ahmad Farran, Head Coach, Al Riyadi

“We knew we’re gonna face a big crowd. So we had to start very strongly to suck the energy of Al Wahda. We spoke about this early in the locker room and we just did what we decided to do: We stick to the plan. And we went as planned. This is why we were able to finish the game by 29 points. We played great basketball. We were unselfish. Everyone contributed offensively and defensively. Great win for us.” – Wael Arakji, Al Riyadi

“It was a tough game. We knew it from the beginning. Al Riyadi is a very good team. We did what we could. We had small mistakes at the beginning of the game that gave them the advantage in the game. I believe that our players gave their effort, they gave their heart. Fans were outstanding as usual. I think we learned a lot from this experience tonight. This experience would be used in the upcoming games — in the rest of WASL, and in the Syrian league.” – Marwan Khalil, Head Coach, Al Wahda

“We had a chance to compete against a big team. Tonight, we don’t call it a loss. We just call it more experience, especially for our young players. Our team is full of young players – younger than Riyadi, less experienced than Riyadi, and this is a good opportunity to learn the game more and build more experience.” – Abdulwahab Alhamwi, Al Wahda