By Leobert Julian A. de la Peña
Vietnamese professional basketball club Saigon Heat pulled off an impressive win in the ongoing ABL Invitational League after defeating PHL-based squad Zamboanga Valientes, 75-71, last January 6, 2023, held at the OCBC Arena in Singapore.
Days after their come-from-behind win against the Louvre Surabaya, Zamboanga ran out of gas and failed to maintain their pace in the last three minutes of the back-and-forth affair.
It was the same scenario when Zamboanga fought back from a deficit but this time, it was bigger, where Saigon was able to extend their cushion to as much as 20 points.
The hardworking Valientes frontcourt sparked their comeback attempt in the final canto when former PBA import Antonio Hester went berserk mode and bullied Saigon’s interior defenders.
However, Saigon was always prepared with every Zamboanga offensive run and was able to balloon their lead back to double-digits twice inside seven minutes.
Desperate to inch closer and stage another ABL miracle, Zamboanga waxed hot at the most perfect time and was able to cut Saigon’s lead back to single digits.
With 1:27 remaining in the game, former Gilas Pilipinas young cadet Kemark Cariño pulled Zamboanga to within four points and had plenty of chances of equalizing the game but several missed shots ran the clock down and prevented them of any last-second hopes.
The loss marked the debut of San Beda Red Lions’ main gunner James Kwekuteye who immediately shrugged off rookie jitters when he dropped 12 points for Zamboanga.
Despite Kwekuteye’s stunning debut, the other local hoopers failed to contribute scoring-wise and got shut down by the Heat as early as the second quarter.
Only Hester and Kwekuteye managed to score double figures for the Valientes side and was a huge blow after Saigon got a balanced attack from five players who reached the double-digit mark.