Strong Group suffers heartbreaking finals loss to Al Riyadi in Dubai International tourney

Al Riyadi celebrates after Ismail Abdelmoneim’s buzzer-beater (UAE Basketball Association Facebook)

By Leobert Julian A. de la Peña

What a heartbreaking finale for the Strong Group Philippines.

After clawing their way back from a 19-point deficit, the PHL representatives got spoiled in the last sequence of the Dubai International Basketball Championship finals game after Al Riyadi sank the buzzer-beating three-pointer, 77-74, last January 29, 2024.

With only seven seconds remaining and the score deadlocked at 74-all, Al Riyadi’s superstar point guard Wael Arakji raced to the other end of their court to execute their final play.

Running out of options as time slowly ticked away, Arakji decided to drive hard on the left side of the court.

Not knowing what his move would be, Strong Group’s Francis Escandor and Andre Roberson blitzed Arakji in the baseline. In a split second, the leftie point guard found his trailing big man Ismail Abdelmoneim who was wide-open from the right elbow.

With only 0.7 seconds left to fire the final attempt, the veteran stretch center quickly pulled the trigger and gave Al Riyadi the Dubai International championship title.

Despite the disappointing loss, Strong Group still fought with their all after completing the come-from-behind effort when they first trailed by as much as 19 points.

Strong Group deployed quick adjustments in the second half and relied on the post prowess of ex-NBA superstar Dwight Howard who was asserting dominance in the shaded lane.

With Howard’s efficient shooting and the locals slowly chipping in offensively, Strong Group finally got a taste of the lead in the fourth quarter when they built a four-point advantage.

The grand finals game then turned into an intense nip-and-tuck battle as Al Riyadi stormed back with a barrage of three-pointers countered by Jordan Heading’s trey party.

Strong Group had the chance to break the 74-all deadlock after Roberson had a clear attempt from the top of the key but his shot missed. After their final play, Abdelmoneim had his biggest moment of the tournament after draining the game-winning trey.

Roberson led Strong Group in scoring after tallying 24 points followed by the duo of Howard and Heading who chipped in 18 and 17 markers, respectively.

Kevin Quiambao, the reigning UAAP MVP who was consistent from the elimination phase, failed to score a single point for Strong Group in 37 minutes of playing time.