Iran dash Lebanon’s Asia Cup dreams

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Iran bated the hosts, they dared them to commit from deep. And Lebanon’s response was a frigid shooting night as they inevitably succumbed to an 80-70 loss in the Asia Cup quarterfinals Wednesday.

Despite Iran’s 3-2 zone defense affording Ramunas Butautas' charges an ocean of space from beyond the arc, Lebanon shot a dismal 25 percent on 6/24.

It was a savvy ploy from the Asian giants which, along with the intimating presence of Hamed Hadadi under the basket, wrought devastating results.

The former Memphis Grizzlies center tallied 23 points for his team, and more significantly, gobbled up almost every loose ball to finish with a frightening 20 rebounds.

Also instrumental for the guests was Mohammad Jamshidi, who time and again exposed Lebanon’s porous transition defense to finish with a game-high 24 points.

Lebanon did, however, impress in the opening stanza, forcing the towering Hadadi into an early turnover before Fadi al-Khatib dropped a 3-pointer at the other end.

But seasoned Iran quickly regrouped as back-to-back 3s from Mohammad Jamshidi gave his side a 7-3 lead.

The tension on court was palpable and swingman Jean Abdelnour went some ways to calming nerves as a gorgeous dish resulted in an easy bucket for Ali Haidar.

Hadadi answered in kind, a silky post move seeing Iran ahead 15-10.

A glut of turnovers was neutering Lebanon’s rhythm as Jamshidi – who finished the period with 13 points – converted a dagger 3 as Iran ended the quarter 18-12 ahead.

Hadadi continued to have his way in the second, scoring an easy 2 to ensure his side remained in the ascendency at 20-12.

Wael Arakji, who replaced the feckless Ali Mezher, quickly made his mark as a piercing coast-to-coast lay-up followed by another drive left Lebanon trailing 20-17.

Benham Yakhchali answered with a 3 before Hadadi again snaffled an offensive rebound to slam home emphatically with Iran up 32-25.

The clutch Jamshidi capped the half with yet another trey as Iran entered the break with a 37-31 cushion.

Hadadi was proving a veritable immovable object in the paint, scoring from an umpteenth offensive board to extend Iran’s advantage to 39-31.

And Arsalan Kazemi’s fast-break dunk left things precariously poised at 43 -31.

Lebanon were sleepwalking their way through the third quarter before Khatib’s 3-point play finally got the hosts off the mark after they went the best part of five minutes without scoring.

Another Khatib conversion coupled with a Abdelnour mid-range jumper was cause for optimism, until reserve guard Sajjad Mashayekhi resumed normal service with an uncontested lay-up to endow Iran with a 52-41 lead.

Jamshidi ominously punctuated the quarter with a 3-pointer to afford Iran a comfortable 56-44 buffer and leave Lebanon with a mountain to climb.

A Hadadi tip-in swiflty epitomized just how helpless Lebanon were as rudderless naturalized American center Norvelle pelle continued to flounder on defense.

The unremitting Jamshidi then dunked as Lebanon’s rearguard completely capitulated with Iran carving their largest lead at 62-45.

A pair of Arakji 3-pointers teased a comeback at 64-53, but the unstoppable Hadadi put paid to that with dominant dunk as Iran comfortably ran out 80-70 winners.

They will next face South Korea who stunned 2015 runners-up Philippines 118-86 in the day’s other quarterfinal.
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