ABL: Newborn Dragons burn Beermen

Stunning debuts from Sammy Monroe and Justin Melton lifted the Westports Malaysia Dragons to an 82-76 win over the San Miguel Beermen on Saturday.

ABL News: Sammy Monroe
Marcus Chhan

By Marcus Chhan

The pair combined for 51 of the Dragons' 82 points to snap a four game losing skid for Ariel Vanguardia's side in the ASEAN Basketball League (ABL) at MABA Stadium.

Monroe, who has been signed to a one month contract as a replacement for the injured Cedric Bozeman, led all scorers with 32 points while Melton added 19 points to ensure Brian Williams' return to Malaysia was an unhappy one.

"I feel really good about this game. I just came to work hard and help the team win. It's a good win today," Monroe said shortly after being named player of the game for his effort which also included seven rebounds, six assists and eight steals.

"I can bring more points and more excitement, more steals and more wins [to the Dragons]. I hope we can sell out the gym [MABA Stadium] one day."

Much of the pre-game build-up had centred around the Williams-Dragons reunion, but right from the tip off it became evident the contest would evolve into a personal duel between opposing forwards Monroe and Beermen star Gabriel Freeman (22 points, 14 rebounds).

It took Monroe just seconds to announce himself to Dragons' fans with a three pointer to kick things off.

Unfazed, Freeman responded on the very next play with a corner three.

A fadeaway jumper from Freeman with 1:40 left in the first period was followed up by a basket from the excellent Chris Banchero (20 points) and a free-throw from Williams to establish a four point lead for the Beermen to end the quarter.

Val Acuna then hit a triple for the Filipinos early in the second quarter to push the lead out to 24-18 and some Dragons' fans, who have seen their team perform sluggishly in this period in several games so far this season, might have been fearing the worse at this stage.

However, they should not have worried at all as the home side put together a 13-0 run to jump ahead by seven points on a long three point shot from Monroe and a free-throw from Melton.

Leo Austria's Beermen are a crafty team which can hurt you in many different ways. Perhaps their most exciting weapon at the moment, though, is their point guard Banchero. The speedy 23-year-old is a handful to mark - especially in transition - and he can shoot the ball too. A three point bucket by the Filipino-Italian and then a nice pass by him to the cutting Williams in the lane for the easy deuce brought back the Dragons' lead to just two points.

Freeman would make two free-throws with less than a minute to go before half-time to edge the Beermen to within one with the score 39-38 to the Dragons to start the third.

The visitors came out as the aggressor in the second half and following Asi Taulava's pitched pass to Leo Avenido (10 points) for the uncontested lay-up on the fast-break, the Beermen had established a five point lead with over seven minutes remaining in the quarter.

But, the Dragons simply refused to lose and they hit back with some impressive shooting from beyond the arc - most notably through Felton who was 3/4 from three point range for the game - to take a slim 59-56 lead into the final period.

More good things were to follow for the Dragons in the fourth. First a steal from Monroe on Freeman set up Melton for an easy score on the alley-oop, and then Monroe went coast-to-coast for two more points to push the lead up to seven.

A scary moment for the Beermen would follow with Williams going down injured after an innocuous looking collision with Dragons player Moala Tautuaa. The former Dragons hero was given a warm reception from the MABA crowd as he left the court with pain in his right knee.

However, Williams, who had 16 rebounds, would limp back into the game with the score 72-68 to the Dragons with 3:09 remaining.

A two-handed stuff from Monroe on the break made it an eight point game late and it should have been a routine close to the game for the Dragons at this point but a careless final minute gave the Beermen some hope as they scored twice in quick succession through Banchero and then Freeman.

The see-saw game finally came to an end with Edwards sealing the 82-76 win with two free-throws with 12 seconds remaining.

"They stepped up to the challenge," Vanguardia said of his players in his post-match interview.
"Today [Saturday] we were able to finish the job. The whole season for us is rebounds, loose balls and finishing the job."

The Westports Malaysia Dragons stay in MABA for their next game as they host the visiting Chang Thailand Slammers on the 23rd of February for another 1500hr HKT tip-off.

The San Miguel Beermen continue their road schedule with a trip to the Singapore Indoor Stadium where they will face the Jobstreet.com Singapore Slingers on the 24th of February for a 1600hr HKT tip-off.

Quarter scoring: Q1(15-19) Q2(24-19) Q3(20-18) Q4(23-20) 

Full-Time: Dragons 82-76 Beermen

Dragons: Monroe - 32pts; Melton - 19pts; Edwards - 13pts; Cabahug -10pts; Tautuaa - 8pts.

Beermen: Freeman - 22pts; Banchero - 20pts; Williams - 12pts; Avenido - 10pts.

ABL: Fixtures, Standings and Results.

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