Saudi Arabia dominates the paint as they defeat India 80-61 in the first game of Group H in FIBA Asia Cup 2021 Qualifiers. The games are being held at King Abdullah Sports City, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. India will look to keep their qualification dreams alive as they take on Palestine on 21 Aug, 20:45 PM IST.
Saudi Arabia will look to get back to the FIBA Asia Cup for the 1st time since 2013 as they play Palestine on 22 Aug after India plays them. Khalid Abdel Gabar led Saudi Arabia in scoring with 17 points and 5 rebounds. Mohammed Alsuwailem dominated the paint with 16 points, 12 rebounds and 5 blocks, imposing his will on the game. They won the battle of the boards against India, with a 47-32 advantage. India were led by Joginder Singh's 17 points and 4 assists as he shot 4/8 from 3-point range. Sahaij Pratap Singh Sekhon chipped in with 15 points and 2 steals, going 3/4 from downtown.
India started with a lineup of Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, Amjyot Singh, Amritpal Singh, Jagdeep Bains and Muin Baig Hafeez. It took time for nerves to settle as both teams were scoreless in the first two minutes. Amjyot settled things for India by playing a two-man game with Amritpal on the pick and roll, dishing it off to the big man for a bucket to open the scoring for India.
The towering Mohammed Alsuwailem got a block in the opening minutes and swished in a free throw line jumper on the other end to make his presence felt. Vishesh, Amritpal, and Amjyot each scored two points as India were down 8-6 with 5 minutes gone in the first quarter. Iraq hit a contested three-pointer and got a bucket down low to pull away 13-6. Vishesh powered his way to the basket to cut the lead to 13-8. Each time Iraq looked to pull away, India crawled back in.
India had their first substitutions with Aravind Annadurai and Joginder Singh coming in for Amjyot and Muin. Saudi Arabia had extended the lead to 18-8. Pranav Prince came into the game with a couple of minutes left and drew a foul. He had to leave the floor after hitting it hard as he fell after contesting a shot. He will be undergoing surgery to recover. At the end of the 1st quarter, Saudi Arabia led 20-8. India struggled to shoot in the opening quarter, going 4/16 from the field, while Saudi Arabia made three 3-pointers, three more than India.
Saudi Arabia opened the 2nd quarter with a three-pointer as they went to take a 15-point lead. Muin got three right back as he broke the drought with a 3-pointer of his own. Saudi Arabia kept the pressure on looking to steadily pull away. But a pair of back-to-back 3-pointers from Joginder Singh and a jumper from Amritpal cut the lead to 10 as India trailed 29-19 with under 7 minutes left in the quarter.
Sekhon made plays on both ends, getting to the rim to finish and forcing a turnover on the other end. Muin's free throws cut Saudi Arabia's lead to 31-23 with 3:35 left in the 2nd quarter as India recovered after a slow start. Joginder drew a foul fighting his way over a screen on defense to get the ball back and threw a nifty bounce pass to Sekhon as he drove to another bucket at the rim. India were down but kept clawing back. India trailed 33-25 with two minutes in the 2nd quarter as they called a timeout looking to close the quarter strong.
With Saudi Arabia leading 36-28 and under 10 seconds in the half, Sekhon leaped in to steal a pass, dribbled and spun his way to finish inside as time ran out in the half. India trailed 36-30 at the half, fighting back from a 15-point deficit. Vishesh, Joginder and Sekhon led India with 6 points each, and Amritpal pulled in 7 rebounds with 5 points to hold down the fort inside. While India lost the rebounding battle in the first half 26-19, India fought back into the game by pressuring Saudi Arabia into 11 turnovers while giving the ball up 4 times.
India opened the 2nd half with Sekhon, Muin, Joginder, Amjyot, and Amritpal on the floor. The three-guard lineup helped India get three-pointers from Joginder and Sekhon to cut the lead to 36-40. Saudi Arabia pressured India into a pair of turnovers as they extended the lead to 44-37. Saudi Arabia notched the intensity higher in the 3rd quarter making each bucket difficult for India as they raced to a 56-42 lead with a minute left in the quarter. Joginder halted the bleeding as he forced a steal and drew an unsportsmanlike foul, giving India two free throws and the ball. Amritpal fought his way in, drew a foul and made two free throws to cut the lead to 56-46 at the end of the quarter. India had a fighting chance going into the 4th quarter.
Saudi Arabia opened the fourth quarter by dominating inside as they pulled away to a 63-47 lead. Joginder sunk a three to cut the lead but India struggled to stop Saudi Arabia inside. Arvind Kumar Krishnan made hustle plays on both ends to assist Sekhon for a 3 and race in for a layup off a turnover, but Saudi Arabia could not be slowed down on offense as they got to the rim at will and made tough shots all over.
Five players finished in double figures for Saudi Arabia, with Mathna Almarwani, Nassir Abo Jalas, and Fahad Belal adding 11 points each to their two leading scorers. India's Big 3 of Vishesh, Amjyot and Amritpal combined for 17 points as Vishesh and Amjyot played under 22 minutes. We may see more of them and Annadurai vs Palestine tomorrow, in a back to back situation like this one you have to play for the game today and for the one tomorrow.
Speaking in the post-game conference, Coach Veselin Matić congratulated the opponents, "I'd like to congratulate team Saudi Arabia. Today they dominated from the beginning. Our start was not what I expected us to do." He added, "Tomorrow is a new game, we'll try to reorganize, to forget the loss and play. For us, it's important to play as we didn't have any game, just had a training camp." While Amritpal was not his usual self, he had also come in after a year-long layoff. As coach Matić said, "If you don't play for a year, if you cannot practice, it is difficult to get going. We expected too much from him, even though he had a strong camp. He's a good player and he will come back. For us the main story is to forget about the game, take experience from it and play a good game tomorrow. First, the schedule was we play on the first day and last day, but now we have to play two days in a row. We'll get ready."
You can watch India take on Palestine on https://www.livebasketball.tv/ or on FIBA's YouTube channel if it's also telecast on the tube.
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