ZOUK MIKAEL (Lebanon) – Al Riyadi submitted another defensive-oriented outing in shackling the erstwhile unbeaten Shahrdary Gorgan, 95-60, to move one win away from repeating as FIBA WASL-West Asia League champions, Thursday night at the Stade Nouhad Nawfal.

The visiting side from Iranian were averaging a potent 94.9 points per outing heading into the best-of-3 title series, but got held to easily the fewest points they mustered this season that eventually led to their first loss after winning their first eight matches.

And that’s because of the Lebanese powerhouse’s effort on defense, leading to more opportunities on offense that enabled them to break the game wide open in the third quarter to eventually close in on securing a back-to-back in the sub-zone league.

Al Riyadi will look to close it out in Game 2 on May 1, Wednesday, at the Azadi Basketball Hall Tehran as the affair shifts to Iran. Tip-off is set at 21:15 local time.

Game heroes: Thon Maker has seemingly found his niche with the crew as he top-scored in the victory with 20 points on 72.7-percent field goal shooting, including a 3-of-4 clip from beyond the arc, alongside 7 rebounds and a block in a turnover-less outing for a 24 efficiency.
Elmedin Kikanovic continued to be the Yellow Castle’s rock with 18 points and 6 rebounds. New acquisition Jonathon Simmons turned in a solid WASL debut as the former NBA veteran finished with 15 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, and 1 steal.

Wael Arakji supplied 14 points, 11 of which he made in the opening period alone to lead the reversal from a slim deficit. The star guard also collected 6 rebounds and 7 assists plus 1 steal on his way to earning STEP AHEAD Player of the Game honors.

Turning point: Gorgan went off to a good start with an 18-13 lead following Sina Vahedi’s four-point play conversion with 3:24 to go in the first, a situation which made things appear bleaker for the home team as it gave Karim Zeinoun his second foul of the game.

Simmons and Maker, though, joined hands to ignite a rally in which Arakji later on joined in to slowly trim the gap. Ali Mansour came in and helped too, nailing a floater just before the buzzer sounded to give themselves the 23-22 lead entering the next frame.

Momentum would shift their way since. With the reigning three-time Iranian champions getting cold on offense, Al Riyadi definitely took advantage and went on a 22-10 barrage in the second period to head into the halftime intermission carrying a 13-point lead, 45-32.

Stats don’t lie: Al Riyadi shot 57-percent from the floor in the dominant win, big thanks to the way they shared the wealth as the team finished with a total of 22 assists

They said: “I’m glad we took the win and we protected our home court. We did a great job, The guys were up to the level defensively and offensively. The stats can tell you everything about our performance. We started slow but we managed to end the first and second quarters in our favor. Even though we made a lot of turnovers and we lost a lot of rebounds, at the end we executed our game plan.” – Ahmad Farran, Head Coach, Al Riyadi

“I think we did a great job as a team. We made sure to stop them offensively. I think they only scored 60 points. We made sure we stopped their key players and most importantly the ball was moving beautifully for us. It was a collective effort both offensive and defensively. Extremely happy with the win but the job is not done. We still have to win in Tehran so we can win the championship.” – Wael Arakji, Al Riyadi

“Very disappointing. We knew what type of team we’re going against, the defending champs; what type of atmosphere it would have been. But the beauty of us we have another game. We have another game to redeem ourselves.” – Will Cherry, Shahrdary Gorgan