EVEN without big man Hamed Ehdadi, defending champion Iran showed it is still a force to reckon with in the 32nd William R. Jones Cup international basketball tournament.
The Iranians, minus their superstar seven-foot-three center, dealt Smart Gilas an 81-68 loss to start their bid to retain the crown on a high note on Thursday at the Hsinchuang Gymnasium in Taipei County.
Asghar Kardoust was an able replacement for Ehdadi as the Filipinos couldn’t neutralize the Iranian who led his team to a resounding victory in the six-nation, seven-team international tournament.
“We cannot be disappointed because we played with a lot of heart,” said Smart Gilas head coach Rajko Toroman.
American Marcus Douthit, the team’s top candidate for naturalization, incurred his third foul with still 5:28 left in the second quarter, forcing Toroman to sit him out the rest of the first half. the Iranians capitalized on his absence and built a 45-35 half-time lead.
Iran threatened to pull away in the third quarter as it erected its biggest lead at 54-37, before Gilas ended the period with a 14-7 exchange to again trail by 10, 51-61, going into the fourth quarter.
The backcourt tandem of Chris Tiu and Mark Barroca led a mini attack by the Philippine team to close the gap at 57-63 with 6:43 left in the game.
But Mahdi Kamrany hit a three-pointer and Samad Bahrami fed Kardoust for a two-handed slam to highlight Iran’s 9-0 blast that pushed them comfortably ahead anew at 72-57 with under five minutes left in the game.
The Filipinos never had a serious run after that to absorb their first loss after dismantling a team of collegiate players, the Taipe All-Stars, in its opening assignment, 83-52, on Wednesday.
“The Philippines is improving every game. They’ve become better and better every time we play them,’’ said Iran head coach Veselin Matic. “Give this Philippine team three more years together and we will have a tougher time beating them.”
Bahrami led the Iranians with 27 points while Kargoust added 18 markers.
Douthit was the topscorer for Gilas with 16 points, while Marcio Lassiter and Tiu chipped in 15 and 11 points, respectively.
Joel Orellana, Business Mirror