East Asia has a new club basketball champion after Anyang KGC defeated Korean rivals Seoul SK Knights in a hotly-contested EASL Champions Week finale in Okinawa today.
Anyang KGC were coming off a massive blowout win yesterday over San Miguel Beermen that secured their spot at the top of Group A. They were led by former NBA big man Omari Spellman, who has been monstrous inside the paint this week, averaging a tournament-leading 37.5 points during the group stage, including a 53-point performance yesterday against San Miguel.
Meanwhile, the Knights had finished as the only undefeated team in Group B, with victories against the Bay Area Dragons and TNT Tropang Giga, sending them automatically to the championship game. They entered tonight’s contest with the second-best defense in the competition, giving up just 153 points. Seoul’s big man Jameel Warney had been dominant in the competition coming into the game, recording a double-double in each of his two games, averaging 25.5 points and 19 boards per game.
The “Battle of Korea” started with the teams exchanging baskets back-and-forth, with 13 lead changes in the opening frame. Both teams shot over 55 percent from the field and the Knights finished the first quarter with a slight, two-point advantage, 27-25.
The second quarter was a completely different story for the defending Korean Basketball League champions. The Knights shot for four for 20 in the quarter, totaling just 10 points to end the half. In contrast, Anyang’s hot streak continued, shooting 62 percent from the field as they took a commanding 12-point lead going into the half.
At halftime, fans were treated to a lively cultural performance titled ‘Nights of Champions’, featuring ninjas with illuminated swords and traditional Japanese Taiko drumming.
After the game resumed, Seoul seemed to have found their stride once again, outscoring their rivals 24-17 and cutting the deficit to single digits. Sharpshooter Kim Sun Hyung was doing his best to help his team climb back into the game. He recorded a game-high 25 points, shooting 64 percent from the floor.
The Knights continued to chip away Anyang’s lead in the fourth quarter, coming as close as two points late in the game. But with under a minute to go, Spellman hit the dagger three to seal the Knights’ fate, avenging Anyang’s loss to Seoul in the 2022 Korean Basketball League Finals.
Spellman finished the tournament as the leading scorer and won the Pocari Sweat Most Valuable Player award.
After the game, Spellman said tonight likely foreshadowed the upcoming contest between the two sides back in Korea: “I think, most likely, it’s a preview of what’s to come in the upcoming KBL Championships. Those guys are an unbelievable team. Suny [Kim Sun Hyung], Jameel [Warney], unbelievable. So, just got to get ready for the season, come back, and be ready to get it done.”
EASL first-ever runners-up, Seoul SK Knights can hold their heads high as they put up a valiant effort attempting a comeback. The team’s shooting struggles in the second quarter ultimately left them with too big a task.
After the game, star forward Jameel Warney said: “It was definitely a tough game for us. [We were] playing short-handed, but we can't have any excuses. We started the game well. I think we just got tired out and we were playing catch up against a really good team. KGC – we know how good they are, we played them a lot this season. We just played our hardest but we just couldn’t execute at the end.”