25 May, 2024
01 June
Game Report
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Arakji, Maker star as Al Riyadi outlast Sagesse in OT to annex FIBA WASL crown

DOHA (Qatar) - Al Riyadi completed their ascension to the peak of FIBA West Asia Super League (WASL) 2024 after outlasting Sagesse SC in an overtime classic, 100-90, in a Final befitting of a championship bout, Saturday night at a packed Lusail Multipurpose Hall.

Thon Maker struck the dagger from the corner with 37.0 seconds left to play, delivering the killer blow that ultimately enabled the Yellow Castle to walk away with the title after losing  a 16-point lead and trailing by nine, 59-68, with under seven minutes to go in regulation.

That big shot of his saved as well the Herculean efforts of Wael Arakji, who strapped the team on his back and nailed three consecutive triples inside the last 69 seconds of the fourth quarter to make it a 79-all count, eventually sending the game into an extra five minutes. 


"All the credit goes to the players because they showed great, great character. They refused to lose," said head coach Ahmad Farran, who also steered the team to a successful title defense in the 2023-24 Snips Lebanese Basketball Championship before they flew to Doha.

Maker came through with a monster performance of 35 points, 15 rebounds, and 4 blocks on his way to becoming the first FIBA WASL MVP - an icing on the cake to a successful redemption tour after falling short of winning the league title with Kuwait Club last year.

Arakji, on the other hand, delivered 20 points, 4 rebounds, and 5 assists in a performance that served as yet another reminder why he was adjudged as the FIBA Asia Cup 2022 MVP.

Amir Saoud flirted with a triple-double as he finished with 13 points, 8 rebounds, and 7 assists. Karim Zeinoun tallied a 12-6-4 stat line, while veteran big man Elmedin Kikanovic supplied 11 points and 9 rebounds as they all contributed in OT to secure the victory.

Those three were key as well in the major change that Farran and his staff had to do after losing Jonathan Simmons, who got hurt early and rode the bench the rest of the way.

"It was a surprising injury for Jonathan Simmons, our leading scorer. He couldn't play so we lost a key player, and we had to change our game plan to play with two big guys," he said.

Simmons' absence did affect Al Riyadi a great deal. After leaving the game for good after the break, the team couldn't sustain momentum and slowly lost the lead. A 9-0 run by Sagesse, capped by a Jonathan Gibson layup, put them ahead, 60-54, entering the fourth.

It then appeared that the Green Castle had the game on lock when Gibson and Ahmad Ibrahim joined hands for another run that push their lead to 68-59 with 6:49 on the clock. It didn't help Al Riyadi, too, that Saoud and Zeinoun were struggling to find the bottom of the net.

Sagesse fans were already in a celebratory mood when their team held a two-possession lead, 74-70, with 1:21 remaining, but that's when Arakji took over and spoiled the party.

And the last of those threes he hit with 6.2 seconds to go struck the opposition so hard, nailing it over the outstretched arms of Gibson to tie the game at 79-all. Al Riyadi then collectively prevented their rivals from setting up a decent play on the other end as time expired.

"It's exceptional. It's not easy. He took two open shots - we created two open shots, but the third one, it was a crazy shot," said Farran. "It was a tough shot. Only players like Wael take those kinds of shots. That's why he's the MVP. He always shows up to save this team."

The extra time would then become the stage for the other key cogs to shine. Saoud manufactured five straight points, followed by a Zeinoun layup off the former's feed and Kikanovic split to give themselves the 91-86 lead with 1:12 to spare.

Soon came the dagger by Maker, before Arakji, Saoud, and Hayk Gyokchyan applied the finishing touches as Al Riyadi erupted in celebration as they swept their way to the title (5-0).

But in a matter of days, it will be back to the grind for the newly-minted champs as they have qualified for the inaugural Basketball Champions League Asia (BCL Asia) on June 9-15 in Dubai. They will represent FIBA WASL together with Shardahry Gorgan.

"Now, we rest, and we go to BCL Asia," said the 42-year-old Farran, who won his 19th title with Al Riyadi. "We are going to put everything we have to win another championship."


Cleanthony Early, meanwhile, had 25 points and 10 rebounds but fouled out early in OT that made it tougher for Sagesse. He was replaced by Nick Rakocevic but he would get disqualified as well for getting his fifth foul approaching the final minute, leaving with 10 and 10.

Gibson made 23 points, spiked by five triples, and 6 rebounds. Ahmad Ibrahim and Omar Jamaleddine added 11 points apiece for Sagesse, who have now lost for the 11th time to Al Riyadi in the 13 meetings they had in the 2023-24 basketball season alone.