By Marcus ChhanFollow @@MarcusChhan
The Slingers were bottom of the ASEAN Basketball League (ABL) before Tuesday's tip at the Singapore Indoor Stadium, but have now moved up to fourth following victory over their Causeway rivals.
Kyle Jeffers led the way for the Singapore club with 24 points and 13 rebounds to defeat the Dragons who drop down to the bottom of the six-team league as a result.
A miserable night for the Malaysians was compounded when star player Cedric Bozeman left the game injured with three minutes to go - he finished with 16 points from 7/15 shooting.
Malaysia Dragons coach Ariel Vanguardia had told his team to "come out swinging" in the pre-match huddle and they did exactly that in the opening minutes.
Bozeman was a major force here, scoring three baskets early through a dunk, lay-up, and jump-shot to establish a 10-5 lead in the first quarter over the home team. His team-mate Moala Tautuaa (12 points) also decided to get in on the act as he hit a long two pointer and then shortly after that slammed the ball into the basket to stretch the lead to nine points.
The Slingers had labeled Tuesday's encounter as a "must-win game" and were certainly not prepared to go down without a fight.
Mitchell Folkoff (9 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals) cut the gap to six with four minutes left in the quarter with a three pointer which would spark the comeback from the Singaporeans.
They would go on to score another six straight points to tie the contest up at 14-14 with 19 seconds left in the opening period.
But Bozeman capped an impressive first quarter haul of eight points with a buzzer beating finish at the rim to take the Dragons through to the second quarter up by two points.
However, if Bozeman was brilliant for the Dragons in the opening period, the Slingers could count on Jeffers for the entire game. He followed up his seven points in the first with nine more in the second - including a three point play to start the Slingers' scoring in the quarter and then denied Tautuaa a two-handed jam on the very next play.
It was a physical contest from start to finish although the officials played their part by choosing to let many fouls go unpunished resulting in high turnover figures for both teams (20-16). Slingers guard Folkoff seems to thrive on the physical side of basketball and so it was no surprise to see him have a hand in the key moments of the second quarter.
After missing the last of his two free-throws at the line, Folkoff was able to come up with the loose ball and feed the sharp-shooting Wong Wei Long (13 points) for three.
Wong would hit another triple - he was 3/6 from beyond the arc - with time winding down in the period before Jeffers found Folkoff cutting to the basket and he finished to make it 37-29 to Neo Beng Siang's men at half-time.
The Dragons have not enjoyed third quarter play so far this season and it was true again on Tuesday at the Singapore Indoor Stadium as they started the second half sluggishly. First they allowed Slingers point guard Donald Dulay far too much space to get to the rim for the lay-up and when Bozeman missed his lay-up in transition, the Slingers quickly broke up the other end of the floor leaving new signing Rashad Jones-Jennings with a standard dunk to go up by nine points.
Less than four minutes into the third, it became 44-31 to the home team as Jeffers powered home a monster jam of his own which bent the rim as he hung on to punctuate a double digit lead.
Down 55-44 early in the fourth quarter, the Dragons gained some momentum as they made a 10-2 run to close the gap. It was ignited by a dunk from Gavin Edwards (8 points, 13 rebounds) followed by a three from Guga capped off by a put back from Tautuaa which helped the Dragons cut their deficit to 57-54.
Tautuaa then made a contested shot under the rim with minutes left on the clock to tie the game at 59 all. Just as things started to go the Dragons way, Bozeman suffered an injury to his left knee and had to be supported off the court.
The Slingers also had injury problems in the final minutes. Slingers' Dulay went down with cramp at his end of the court while Desmond Oh collapsed clutching his rib area and was stretchered off the court. Both Dulay and Oh were unable to finish the game.
Despite Bozeman's exit, the Dragons had a chance to tie the game after Tautuaa came up with an important steal mid-court and a chance at an open dunk - but the American missed it with 15 seconds left. Cabatu then secured Slingers' second win of the season with two clutch free throws at the end.
The Slingers outrebounded the Dragons 45-33 during the victory to improve their win-loss record to 2-2 for the season while the Malaysians slump to 2-4.
Quarter scoring: Q1(14-16) Q2(23-13) Q3(16-15) Q4(15-23)
Full-Time: Slingers 68-67 Dragons
Slingers: Jeffers - 24, Wong - 13, Dulay - 10, Folkoff - 9, Cabatu - 6, Jones-Jennings - 4, Oh - 2.
Dragons: Bozeman - 16, Loh - 14, Tautaa - 12, Edwards - 8, Cabahug - 6, Batumalai - 5, Ooi - 4, Kwaan - 2.
A portion of the ABL's official report was used in this story.