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Smart RP succumbs to tall Iranian squad

Iran’s American recruit Jackson Vroman towers over Smart Gilas RP’s Rafael Jazul in a undergoal play during their showdown in the FIBA-Asia Champions Cup in Jakarta. Jun Mendoza

JAKARTA – Smart Gilas Pilipinas played it smart in the first half but bowed to a taller, more experienced Mahram of Iran, 87-98, yesterday in the 20th FIBA-Asia Champions Cup at the Britama Arena here.

The Iranians leaned on the pair of American behemoths to dominate the Filipinos in the lane in the third quarter before coasting to their first victory in the tournament they are expected to dominate.

The 6-10 Jackson Vroman, the Chicago Bulls’ 31st overall pick in 2004 but was traded to the Phoenix Suns and then later went to the New Orleans Hornets, overpowered the Filipinos underneath, finishing with 42 points, 13 rebounds and two shot blocks.

The 7-4 Priest Lauderdale, a former Atlanta Hawk, backed him up with 16 points, 11 boards and three blocks all in the first half.

RP’s lone American reinforcement CJ Giles proved no match to the towering and power-playing duo, committing his fourth foul early in the third while trying to defend Smart Gilas’ side.

“They deserve to win, they played better in the second half, they used their experience,” said RP team Serbian coach Rajko Toroman. “But I was proud of my players, we showed character, we showed we can be competitive.”

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The Filipinos used their quickness, aggressiveness and outside shooting and even led by 11 points, 24-13, late in the first quarter with skipper Chris Tiu completing a rare four-point play off a foul from veteran guard Madhi Kamrany.

But Vroman, whose 2004 batch included the Orlando Magic’s Dwight Howard and the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Anderson Varejao, and Lauderdale started to dominate inside, scoring almost at will while sending Giles, Aldrech Ramos, Dylan Ababou, Jason Ballesteros and Mac Baracael into early foul troubles.

Giles then took his fourth foul early in the third while trying to stop Vroman, whom he had an altercation in the first half.

“I think CJ’s fourth foul in the third quarter was the big difference in the game,” said Toroman.

Kamrany, Samad Nikkah Bahrami, Hamed Afagh Eslameih and Hamed Sohrabnejad, members of the Toroman-mentored Iran national team that ruled the 2007 FIBA-Asia Championship in Tokushima, Japan, got the job done by combining for 34 points, 17 rebounds and 14 assists.

Despite the setback, the Filipino cagers impressed Iran coach Mostafa Hashemi.

“They’re very good, we’re surprised. It was a hard game,” said Hashemi. “I congratulate him (Toroman), he’s done very good to this team (Smart Gilas).”

The Nationals’ stint here is backed by main partner Smart, official outfitter Accel, official ball Molten, Cebu Pacific, official socks Burlington and official casual wear Collezione by Rhett Eala.

Late Tuesday, Al Wasil of United Arab Emirates survived Satria Muda of Indonesia, 83-79, and Zain of Jordan overpowered Young Cagers of India, 90-59.

The Iran-RP encounter also had some tense moments, involving the temperamental Vroman.

The Filipinos, who beat Sangmoo of Korea, 90-76, Tuesday, will take a break today and will resume their campaign against Al Riyadi of Lebanon Friday.

Co-skipper Mark Barroca led RP, which finished with 13 triples that tied Korea’s output the other day, for the second straight game with 18 points while Giles, Baracael and Ababou had 14, 11 and 11 points, respectively.

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