Sri Lanka Dent Nepal’s Hopes!

Nepal succumbed to a tough physical test from Sri Lanka in the closing stages to lose their second match of the third Saba Championship 80-66 here at the National Sports Council on Wednesday.

The loss dented Nepal’s hopes of finishing second as they stare at a daunting task of defeating South Asian giants India on Thursday. Title contenders India later crushed defending champions Bangladesh 95-39 to make a perfect start to their campaign.

India, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bangladesh are tied on two points each with the former leading the table on better win margin. India have a win margin of 56 points with one match in hand, while Sri Lanka have 14 and Nepal, who defeated Maldives 108-89 on Tuesday, have five.

Bangladesh had edged Sri Lanka by two points on Tuesday and Wednesday’s crushing defeat leaves them with a margin of -54. The winners will be decided through the points gained while in case of tied points, winning margin will come into play.

In a closely-contested first quarter, Sri Lanka edged ahead by one point (20-19) with seven-point contribution from their experienced shooting guard Roshan Randima. For Nepal shooting guard Sadish Pradhan and forward Ashim Shrestha netted six points each in the first quarter with the latter also having two assists and a rebound.

After three-pointer each from Pradhan and Binod Maharjan tied the scores at 25-25 in the second quarter, Nepal led for the first time in the match with two points from Shrestha. The hosts hung on to a 34-32 lead with 2:16 minutes left but the Lankans added six points and retain a four-point (38-34) lead going into the third quarter.

Sri Lanka went ahead by 41-34 with 1:29 minutes gone in the penultimate period but Maharjan brought Nepal back into the match with two two-pointer and a three. The Lankans, however, kept scoring at ease taking full advantage of their physical strength leading 56-45 with 25 seconds left. Sadish reduced the deficit pouring in a three-pointer as Nepal were still in the game trailing by just eight points.

Nepal almost pulled it back when four points from Ashim and two free shots from skipper Rajiv Joshi brought the scores at 56-54 with 8:43 minutes left. But Nepal’s defense began to crumble allowing Sri Lanka to score at ease.

Mithila Abeysekara set up the game for Sri Lanka in the final quarter scoring 11 points. Pradhan scored seven points in the final quarter and tossed in a match-high 20 points with four three-pointer. Maharjan also had four three-pointer in his 19 points. Roshan top scored for Sri Lanka with 15 points and three three-pointers. Shrestha netted 15 points with four assists and three rebounds.

Nepal coach Dinesh Nakarmi said his team lost in the defensive aspect of the game. “We were not able to gather the ball in defensive rebounds and the shooters also failed in offense. I think the shooters were a bit of panic. We are still alive in the tournament and we need to beat Bangladesh now,” said Nakarmi.

Sri Lankan coach Prasanna Jayasingha termed the game as a tough one. ”Nepal were good in their outside shooting and many of their three-point attempts were converted. But we had the physical advantage and some of our experienced players helped us turn around the game in four favour,” said Jayasingha.

India, meanwhile, dominated the entire game against a hapless Bangladesh side. Amjyot Singh scored 16 points for India, while Mithun Kumar Bishwas rolled in 14 for Bangladesh.