February 7, 2024 – Jamsil Students’ Gymnasium, Seoul
The Seoul SK Knights are Group B winners after defeating dogged Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) side the Meralco Bolts 72-62.
An impressive performance by new import Shonn Miller helped Meralco take the game to their highly-rated opponents.
Seoul pulled away in the fourth quarter, led by powerful performances by Leon Williams and Heo Il Young.
1. Result sets up all-KBL semifinal
The Seoul SK Knights’ victory sets up a semifinal in the EASL Final Four against Group A runners-up and Korean rivals Anyang Jung Kwan Jang Red Boosters.
This has been one of the fiercest rivalries in East Asian basketball in recent years. The two teams met in the 2023 EASL Champions Week Final as well as the 2023 KBL Finals. Jung Kwan Jang took both series last year and are the reigning EASL and KBL champions.
The Jung Kwan Jang roster is much changed since last year and the team has not showed the same form domestically. Out of the running in the KBL 2023-24 season, the EASL remains a chance for silverware.
SK Knights are doing better in the KBL this year, currently placed fourth. Anyang is ninth.
This Korean clash will be one to watch in the EASL Final Four semifinals on March 8.
2. Heo’s huge second half
Heo Il Young came off the bench and scored 23 points, helping SK finally put away the battling Meralco Bolts.
The forward was averaging 8.7 points per game in EASL before this game.
Alongside Heo, Leon Williams was critical for the Knights, scoring a team-high 25 points and getting 19 rebounds.
Williams and Heo stepped up in the absence of Seoul’s leading EASL scorer Jameel Warney. Warney sat out today’s game after playing two games last weekend.
With Warney expected to be back for the Final Four, the Seoul SK Knights will present a serious threat to any opposition.
3. New import Miller leads never-say-die Bolts
Shonn Miller, who was signed by the Bolts at the start of last month, scored a team-high 23, helping his team once again put up a stiff challenge to the Seoul SK Knights.
The KBL team beat Meralco by just a single point in Manila at the end of December. This evening, the Bolts once again gave SK a tough game, despite missing seven regular players.
Miller came into the team at the start of January to replace Zach Lofton, who had been the second-leading scorer in EASL this season, averaging 30.5 points per game. The Bolts have also lost the services of Prince Ibeh, another import that starred in EASL earlier this season.
Miller took impressive form in the PBA into this game. Domestically, he has averaged 22.2 points, 16.8 rebounds, and 3.4 steals in five games. This evening, he also notched eight rebounds, three assists and two steals.
Alongside Miller, Alvin Pasaol contributed for Meralco, with 14 points. Another new import, Alioune Tew, playing his very first game for Meralco, had 21 rebounds and scored 14.
Despite their underdog tag coming into the season, Meralco proved a handful for every opponent they faced, and proved they deserved a place among East Asia’s best in EASL.
EASL Player of the Game: Leon Williams, Seoul SK Knights
Leon Williams stepped up to fill the big gap left by Jameel Warney in tonight’s Seoul SK Knights squad.
The powerful center played the entire game. He shot 56 percent for a game-high 25 points and made a huge contribution on the boards with 19.
Stat of the day
The Seoul SK Knights scored 28 points off the bench this evening, with 23 coming from Heo Il Young Heo alone. By contrast, the depleted Meralco team’s bench players contributed just two points.
The Bolts’ lack of playing time together also showed in the disparity in assists. Seoul had 27 compared the Bolts’ 13. Wonhyuk Choi was the keyman for Seoul on this statistic, with an impressive 14 assists.
The Bolts sent out an active roster who had played just 25 EASL games combined. In comparison, the Seoul SK Knights’ active roster had played 43 EASL games combined.
Quotes of the day
Seoul SK Knights forward Heo Il Young:
On playing Jung Kwan Jang in the semifinals:
“We’d [prefer to] play Jung Kwan Jang in the final! But we’ll play them in the semifinal and it will be a great game.”
On SK’s ambitions for the Final Four:
“Last year, we got second place. This year, our main goal is to get the championship and we’ll try hard for it.”