MANAMA returned to the summit of Bahrain basketball last night after an agonising six-year absence.
Arguably the most successful team in the game nationally, the boys in blue were yesterday crowned champions of this year's Zain Bahrain Basketball League.
They clinched their crown after defeating arch-rivals Muharraq 67-64 in a tightly contested, see-saw affair at a jam-packed Zain Basketball Arena in Um Al Hassam. The result closed out the best-of-five championship series 3-1, and it secured Manama's capture of a superb league-and-cup double this season.
Manama, coached by Tony Vujanic of Serbia, claimed the 17th league title overall and first since 2006. It was a fitting ending to their storybook run, as they dethroned the defending champions in a gruelling and massively exciting match-up.
"We are all very happy," Manama's Senegalese professional and former NBA player Pape Sow told the GDN after the game.
"The team has been waiting six seasons to get to this point, and to finally be here after fighting so hard to achieve our goal is very rewarding."
Manama court general Mohammed Hussain added: "It's great to be the league champions again after so long. We have won the cup a few times these past years, but getting the league title is always extra special.
"We thank all our supporters and everyone who loves Manama basketball for helping inspire us to fulfill our dreams."
Mohammed Hassan poured in a game-high 24 points while Hussain added 21 as they spearheaded Manama to the victory.
Hassan, who was a Muharraq star before moving to Manama, torched his old team by scoring the go-ahead basket that gave his side a 66-64 lead with only a half-minute remaining.
Muharraq's Ahmed Al Derazi then missed a game-tying attempt on the other end, and Hussain grabbed the rebound and was fouled with just 10.6 seconds to go.
Hussain made one of two free-throws, but Muharraq did not call a timeout after the missed second shot, and veteran big man Ahmed Malallah was forced to rush the ball down the length of the court and take a desperation three-pointer from well beyond the arc with the hopes of forcing overtime. His shot was well off, however, and even though Muharraq regained possession with 0.1 seconds remaining, it was too little too late and the result was already decided.
Sow added 13 points for Manama, while Ahmed Abdulaziz had five and Hassan Nairouz four. Manama were able to take down last year's champions despite missing the services of inspirational frontcourt tandem Mohammed Qurban and Ahmed Al Mutawa for the entire finals.
Muharraq's naturalised Bahraini big man CJ Giles scored 22 points to lead his team in yesterday's loss. Al Derazi finished with 18, while Bader Abdulla Malabes contributed 15 points and Malallah six.
"We knew from the start that we were going to win the league and the cup this year," Sow said. "It was all about our team believing in ourselves and fighting through the obstacles.
"Thank God we were able to do it and this victory is for our fans, who have supported us from day one."
Manama Club chairman Zuhair Kazerooni and team captain Mahmood Ghuloom received the league trophy from Bahrain Basketball Association president Adel Al Asoomi during last night's awarding ceremony. Bahrain Olympic Committee acting general secretary Abdulrahman Askar was also on hand, along with Zain Bahrain public relations specialist Ghazi Radhi and other officials.
Manama led 16-14 at the end of the first quarter after Abdulaziz scored with a driving lay-up. Malabes then made a fine fade-away jumper that helped Muharraq take a 26-24 lead into the locker rooms after a low-scoring first half.
Six straight points from Giles then put Muharraq ahead 36-30 in the third, and Muharraq later took a 48-44 lead into the final canto.
Malallah's second triple of the game then made it 51-44 for Muharraq with around seven minutes remaining, but then American head coach Charlie Parker chose to rest Giles momentarily as he had four fouls.
Manama then roared back with a 10-0 run capped by a Hassan three-pointer with Giles on the bench.
But while Muharraq would answer, it was clear that Manama had regained the momentum and their players came up biggest in the end.
Two Al Derazi free-throws tied the game for the last time at 64-all with 48.9 seconds remaining. That paved the way for the late heroics from Manama's Hassan and Hussain.