Lebanon leap into second round at Asia Cup

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Lebanon will aim to make quick work of minnows Chinese Taipei in the Asia Cup second round Monday, as a daunting task against the mighty Iran team awaits the hosts in the quarterfinals. A 96-74 rout of Kazakhstan Saturday ensured safe passage to the next phase, but defensive deficiencies once more resurfaced for Ramunas Butautas’ men.

Despite the gulf in class between the two nations, Kazakhstan grabbed 20 offensive rebounds, leading to 16 second-chance points. Rebounding has been Lebanon’s Achilles’ heel in the competition so far, with the 17 second-chance points surrendered in Thursday’s loss to New Zealand, effectively costing them first place in Group C and automatic qualification to the quarterfinals.

There was, though, cause for optimism following Saturday’s performance, with point guard Wael Arakji finding something close to his best form after he managed a paltry two points against the Tall Blacks.

The 22-year-old recorded a team-high 20 points while shooting an exemplary 9 out of 10 from the field.

With Butautas meticulously managing the minutes of Lebanon’s key men Saturday, a handful of fringe players were able to step into the breach and make a case for more game time against Chinese Taipei.

Amir Saoud was particularly impressive with 13 points off the bench, while Ali Mezher’s contribution of seven points, and more importantly, six assists, also stood out.

The larger squad rotation saw Lebanon dramatically increase their bench points from nine and seven against South Korea and New Zealand respectively, to 30.

Additionally, the hosts proved an outside threat for the first time, converting seven out of 13 3-point attempts for a 54 percent average.

While Chinese Taipei will be a slight upgrade on Kazakhstan, they shouldn’t, in theory, pose too many problems for Lebanon.

If not much can be drawn from their 90-50 reverse to tournament favorites Australia, an 87-49 lashing at the hands of Japan, a manifestly ordinary side, aptly reflects Chinese Taipei’s shortcomings at this level. Chinese Taipei’s only victory in the tournament to date came courtesy of a 77-62 win over whipping boys Hong Kong.
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