20-04-13: One of the top teams of this tournament, IOB made heavy weather of this second semifinal before overcoming Punjab 79-75. Their lethargy in the earlier round robin stage had them struggling to match the tempo of Punjab for three quarters of this match. IOB had had a comfortable journey into the semifinals and were still in a sense shaking off their cobwebs, despite already playing three matches in the last week.

Starting centre Riken Pethani was the star performer for IOB. He played the full 40 minutes and maintained his energy all through the game. He scored 26 crucial points and had a mammoth 11 offensive rebounds. Along with IOB’s other forward Vineeth, IOB enjoyed a devastating 26-13 rebounding advantage in this match.

After trailing for most of the first three quarters, IOB found some unlikely heroes in the form of substitutes No. 13 Raghuram and No. 14 V Prasanna. Their defensive work on Ranbir Singh and Amritpal Singh in the last ten minutes slowed down Punjab’s scoring and ensured that Punjab never caught up with their slender lead.

In the first half, Ranbir and Amritpal had out-shot, outran and outclassed the seasoned IOB players that included past and current internationals like Mihir Pandey and Hareesh Koroth. Ranbir had 24 points and Amritpal contributed 26. Hareesh finally found his shooting touch in this game after struggling in all the league encounters. He was 3 of 4 from distance.

The story of the game however, was IOB’s dominance of the boards. With no quality offense being created (their playmaker Mihir Pandey was fouled out early in the second half after being on court for less than 10 mins), Vineeth and Riken’s persistence in securing the ball on both ends of the floor pulled them through to the finishing line.

For Punjab, it was a story of so near yet so far. The Punjab team has some obvious limitations especially in the lack of quality bigs down low. Forwards like Yadwinder Singh and the 22-year-old 7-footer Amritpal Singh are now part of other professional sides. That Punjab came this far in RMBT 2013, and ran IOB so close, is credit to their undersized forwards Harminder Singh and Harvinder. The two of them did an excellent job in the first half in drawing out the much taller Rikin and Vineeth to free up the offensive glass for the smaller Amritpal Singh, who had 6 offensive rebounds.

By half time, Punjab led by a whisker 40-39. Eventually, IOB figured out Punjab’s ploy and focused on protecting the paint. The young, athletic and supremely talented Ranbir Singh of Punjab deserves special mention. His footwork, ball handling skills and shooting touch are of the highest quality, making him an absolute treat to watch. You can be sure to hear more about this youngster in the coming years, as he develops his basketball IQ with further exposure on the national scene.

IOB will go into their finals against ONGC later this evening, conscious that they will have to produce basketball of a consistently higher quality for the full 40 minutes. This semi-final against Punjab was a rude wake up call. Let’s hope they see it that way.

Key Performances

Pratham Singh, IOB. While Vineeth and Rikin’s work on the boards was the defining performance of this game, the young Pratham of IOB attracted a lot of eyeballs with his guard skills. A very mature head sits on his strong shoulders. The young scorer showed he could keep his cool in the absence of the other two experienced playmakers on his side Mihir Pandey (fouled out) and Hareesh Koroth (ineffective on the defensive end so made to sit on the bench).

Pratham scored 13 tough points despite his outside shot not working (0 of 7 from long range). He showed the ability to drive in, hang in the air, draw the contact and complete the high-arcing layup. This is a huge skill among guards in our country, who are regularly criticized for settling too easily for the outside jumper.

IOB’s lockdown defence in the second half: Substitutes Raghuram and Prasanna completely shutdown the two Punjab scorers Ranbir Singh and Amritpal Singh. The two Punjab players were on a scoring spree in the first half. Raghuram and Prasanna mirrored their every offensive move and stayed with the two players on their drives to the basket. Ranbir and Amritpal were greeted with a wall created by 2 sets of hands every time they attempted to drive in.

Highlight Plays

Clutch three! V Prasanna knocked down a three from the right hand side with 40 secs left in the game making it a two possession game in IOB’s favour.  Neither team would score again till the final buzzer sounded.

In the start we didn’t click. Later on we caught up. We had decided to make no silly mistakes. We played excellent defense in the last quarter and a half.”

– Riken Pethani, IOB’s star Centre

That was our lowest point. We were losing our game at that point. Nothing was going right for us. But we youngsters decided we were going to win anyway.”

–       Riken, on the impact of senior playmaker Mihir Pandey getting fouled out early in the second half.

Gopalakrishnan R
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