Lebanon beats China’s basketball team in World Cup qualifiers

Hu Mingxuan (R) of China vies with Amir Saoud of Lebanon during the FIBA 2019 World Cup Asian Qualifiers 2nd round Group E match between Lebanon and China in Beirut, Lebanon, on Sept.13, 2018. China lost 88-92. (Xinhua/Bilal Jawich)
Hu Mingxuan (R) of China vies with Amir Saoud of Lebanon during the FIBA 2019 World Cup Asian Qualifiers 2nd round Group E match between Lebanon and China in Beirut, Lebanon, on Sept.13, 2018. China lost 88-92. (Xinhua/Bilal Jawich)

An intrepid performance saw Lebanon battle to a memorable 92-88, overtime win over mighty China in FIBA World Cup qualification in Zouk Thursday. Ali Haidar sparked Lebanon’s second-half comeback, leading all-scorers with 26 points and nine rebounds.

Ahmad Ibrahim added 19 points for the Cedars while Ater Majok contributed 17 points to go along with eight boards.

Zhou Peng led the way for China with 22 points, five rebounds and four assists.

Without the services of the retired Fadi al-Khatib and the injured Wael Arakji, Lebanon were sorely lacking some scoring punch from the perimeter. But Ibrahim, recently restored to the Lebanon fold, rose to the occasion to keep the hosts within striking distance of China.

Ibrahim nailed a 3-pointer before converting an and-one play as Lebanon kept it competitive at 14-8 to China.

Naturalized center Majok made a belated impact on the first quarter, utilizing the pick-and-roll and dishing to Ali Haidar for the easy dunk.

Ibrahim continued to be the focal point of Lebanon’s offense, and his 11 points in the period saw Lebanon trailing by just three, 20-17 at the end of the quarter.

But China came out swinging to open the second, and Wu Qian hit a 3 as the visitors embarked on an early 5-1 run to extend their lead to 25-17.

Lebanon quickly answered through an Elie Rustom fast break, cutting China’s advantage to a solitary point at 25-24 as Slobodan Subotic’s men gradually grew into the game.

Reserve center Daniel Faris made quite the difference late in the quarter, contributing seven valuable points as Lebanon remained neck and neck with the Asian giants.

Ibrahim then drained another 3-pointer to hand the Cedars a 36-33 lead, but Hu Jinqiu replied for China as the half ended with things delicately poised at 36 all.

China, once again, came racing out of the blocks for the start of the third, five answered points leaving Lebanon’s arrears at 41-36.

A bucket from Elie Chamoun stopped the rot before four straight points from Amir Saoud sliced the deficit to 45-42.

Lebanon, however, were struggling to cope with China’s inside-out game, and Wu struck with a barrage of triples as the guests ended the third up 61-54.

Just as Lebanon’s resistance appeared to be fading, Haidar intervened with five points on the bounce to reignite his side’s hopes.

A Majok jumper followed by a transition triple from Saoud completed an unlikely turnaround as Lebanon battled to a 70-68 lead.

Haidar’s inspired fourth-quarter continued to gather steam as the Riyadi player came from the weak side to make a timely block.

The defensive play culminated in an easy driving lay-up for Ibrahim as Lebanon kept their noses in front at 72-71 of this nail-biting affair.

China then drew on their deep reserves of know-how and experience, and, when Ren Junfei’s running circus shot dropped, Lebanon’s designs on a famous upset appeared dead in the water.

But in keeping with this wonderfully oscillating encounter, the balance shifted again, with Majok the architect of another Lebanese run.

The Sudanese giant knocked down a 15-footer before rising for a dunk and foul from a Soaud lob on the next play.

A composed Majok swished the ensuing free throw to send the game into overtime.

The drama didn’t stop there, China jumping out to another quick start to seize a comfortable cushion in the early knockings of overtime.

Saoud then took a deep and ill-advised 3-pointer, a similarly asinine foul from his defender bailing out the Riyadi guard and sending him to the line for three shots.

A nerveless Soaud converted all three to tie it up at 82, before Rustom would have a game-altering effect in the dying embers.

The wily Champville swingman would pounce with an opportune steal, handing the ball off to a breaking Ibrahim in open court.

And, after Ibrahim missed with a wide open lay-up, Rustom followed in to leave Lebanon on the brink of a famous victory.

Another steal led to a breakaway bucket for Ibrahim before Rustom fittingly added the final touches to an enthralling occasion.

The 31-year-old sunk two free-throws to put the game out of reach as Lebanon wildly celebrated the giant-killing of their illustrious opponents.

Xinhua/Daily Star