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Al Ahli claim trophy.

Byline: PATRICK SALOMON

AL AHLI romped past Muharraq 75-59 last night to emphatically clinch their 13th national title and dethrone the defending champions with a sweep of the best-of-three finals series in the Zain Bahrain Basketball League.

Sayed Hashim's outstanding play on both ends of the floor highlighted a complete team effort from the victors, who were in control of the game from the opening tip.

Hashim hounded Muharraq's star forward Mohammed Hassan for 40 minutes and anchored Ahli's vacuum-tight defence, which forced their rivals into one of their worst performances all season.

Bruiser Mohammed Qurban scored 18 points to lead five players in double figures for the newly crowned champions. Former NBA first-round pick Johnny Antonio Taylor chipped in with 15, while Hashim added 13 and court general Hussain Shaker 12.

Ahli clinched its second title in three years with yesterday's game two triumph. Their previous win in 2007 featured a different professional player and head coach, but had the same core group of local talent.

"Many people doubted us, but our players responded and showed everyone that we are number one in Bahrain," Ahli head coach Aqeel Milad told the GDN after post-game celebrations.

"We are grateful to each other for what they have achieved; our players deserve to be the champions," added assistant coach Talal Mousa.

Ahli went ahead by as high as their winning margin of 16 points in the pivotal fourth quarter, when they wrested momentum for good and frustrated Muharraq's players both on the floor and in their heads.

Smelling blood in the water, they went in for the kill and their wounded rivals had no answer.

Maytham Jameel put Ahli in front by double figures, 59-48, with a three-pointer to start the period, before Shaker helped maintain the margin with two free-throws midway through. And after Muharraq captain Ahmed Al Doy picked up his fifth foul, it seemed that Ahli were destined to take the crown.

Taylor extended Ahli's lead to 66-52 with a turn-around jumper before Muharraq's Mohammed Abdulmajeed answered with a triple to cut the deficit to 55-66 with two minutes to play.

Hassan then squandered a golden opportunity to narrow the gap further with a pair of missed charities, and after teammate Ali Abbas scored on a jumper to make it 57-66, Hashim replied with an uncontested lay-up off a Qurban outlet that caught the Muharraq defence napping in their own half.

Qurban later rubbed salt in their wounds with a triple that pegged the final score moments before the final buzzer, which signalled a frenzy among the hundreds of Ahli supporters who later stormed the court from the stands.

"I've been playing professional basketball for 12 years; this is my first championship and it feels great," Taylor said.

"This win is for our fans. My teammates have been incredible; they play with so much heart and determination. We did it as a team, like a fist."

Both teams battled back and forth for the opening two quarters.

Jameel provided an early spark off the bench, as Ahli moved ahead 21-16 at the end of the first, when neither Hassan nor Abdulmajeed were making their presence felt for Muharraq.

In a low-scoring second, Muharraq managed to take the lead but two straight lay-ups form Hashim - one off a steal in an apparent foul on Hassan - gave them a 38-31 cushion at the interval.

Ahli later went up by as many as 11 in the third, when Muharraq were beginning to show signs of fatigue.

American import Rah-Shaun Roberts, who was single-handedly carrying his team in the game, made a jumper that made it 48-56 to end the third, giving Muharraq hope heading into the final canto.

But it was not meant to be, as Ahli displayed their superiority over the last 10 minutes.

"It was a great show from all our guys," said Hashim. "We're overjoyed to have regained our title after losing to Muharraq in the semi-finals last year."

Added veteran forward Ahmed Malallah: "Everyone was focused on getting this win. We wanted to end it tonight and not have to play a third game, and it's a great thing we closed it out."

Roberts had 22 points for Muharraq, coached by Wayne Mendezona of the US. Abdulmajeed had 16 and Essa Ebrahim 12, while Hashim held Hassan to just six markers.

Copyright 2009 Gulf Daily News

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Publication:Gulf Daily News (Manama, Bahrain)
Date:Apr 18, 2009
Words:736
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