THE NLEX Road Warriors returned to winning ways on Monday night in the Dubai International Basketball Invitationals, dealing the United Arab Emirates an 87-80 defeat at the Ah Ahli Club.
Import Al Thornton made up for a lackluster performance in a lopsided 83-111 defeat to Al-Riyadi of Lebanon by scoring 22 points and nine rebounds and standing at the forefront of a tough NLEX defense.
There were still scary moments, especially after the Road Warriors let an early 11-point lead evaporate as star guard Salim Talal led a UAE team coached by Zoran Zupcevic back on even terms at the half.
“Coach Boyet (Fernandez) was not happy with how we let UAE dissolve our double digit in the first quarter, and he challenged us not to lose our composure,” said NLEX big man Asi Taulava.
Fernandez’s statements did not fall on deaf ears as the Road Warriors once more took control with Thornton, Taulava, Mark Cardona and Jonas Villanueva finally hitting their strides.
Though the UAE five tried to mount a rally, NLEX kept the hosts at bay behind sweet-shotting big man Aldrech Ramos' timely hits from the perimeter.
“Ginawa ko lang naman po role ko. Masyadong clogged sa ilalim, sabi ni coach kailangan ko kumonekta sa labas, para mahatak sa labas yung ibang big man nila,” said Ramos, who has regained his confidence with the NLEX team.
The win is the Road Warriors’ second in three outings, giving them a better positioning going to the crossover quarterfinals which will start on Thursday.
NLEX will need to cruise past Zamalek Egypt Air at 9 p.m. on Tuesday (1 a.m. Wednesday, Manila time) to take the No. 2 seeding in Group A behind tormentor Lebanon.
Teams playing in the other group are current top seed Sagesse Fly Emirates-Lebanon, second running Sale Live Free-Morocco , struggling And Ane of America and Al-Shabab (DP World).
NLEX 87 – Thornton 22, Taulava 16, Cardona 15, J. Villanueva 12, Ramos 10, Lingganay 7, Canaleta 3, Baloria 2, E. Villanueva 0, Borboran 0, Apinan 0, Soyud 0
UAE 80 – Salim 22, Omar 21, Mubarak 17, Sultan 10, S. Khalifa 6, Abdellatif 4, Hashel 0, Yaqoub 0, Aldhanhani 0, M. Khalifa 0, Fayrooz 0