Bengaluru: Defending champions India turned in a brilliant second-half performance to outplay Sri Lanka 93-44 and win the fourth South Asian Basketball Association (SABA) tournament on Sunday.
India thus qualified for the 2015 Asian Championships to be held in China from September 23 to October 3. They are clubbed with defending Asian champions Iran, Japan and Malaysia.
Having won all their five matches, India topped the tournament ahead of Sri Lanka who had a win-loss record of 4-1, while Nepal finished third followed by Maldives, Bangladesh and a winless Bhutan.
India had relied all along on their much taller frontline, aggressive man-to-man defence, counter-attacking on the break and effective outside shooting to register 100-plus points in three of their earlier four matches. The final game against Sri Lanka was no different.
For Sri Lanka, 22-year-old Praneeth Udumalagala and first substitute Thimothi Thineshkanth fought valiantly to keep their team's score ticking, but with India scoring almost twice as quickly (46-26 at halftime) it was a constantly slippery slope for the islanders.
India, who took the field without young Punjab forward Gurinder Singh Gill, nursing a shoulder injury, turned on the heat on resumption to emerge comfortable winners even as a fatigued Sri Lankans, also playing their second game of the day like the hosts, faded from the contest.
The third quarter saw the Indian team go on a particularly vicious tear, starting with a 9-0 run coming out of the halftime break.
"I can't deny that I am disappointed," Sri Lanka head coach Panduka Ranasinghe said after the loss. "But all credit to what (his Indian counterpart) Prasad has managed to do with his team."
Ranasinghe had posted on Facebook earlier today on the fatigue factor. While India had it easy against Maldives winning 128-48, Sri Lanka had to struggle against a fighting Nepal before coming through 76-68.
India had four players in double digits, with Tamil Nadu's centre Aravind Annadurai top scoring with 22 points, which included one three-pointer, surprising for someone playing his position.
"We are confident of doing better at the FIBA Asia level this time, as now other teams fear us." said small forward Prasanna Venkatesh.
He has reason to feel optimistic, as India fielded five first-time senior team debutants this time, who managed to more than fill in for the absence of missing starters Amritpal Singh, Amjyot Singh Gill, Vishesh Bhriguvanshi and Yadwinder Singh.
The winning team was given a cash prize of Rs.35,000 as a personal gesture of Basketball Federation of India president K Govindraj. Trophies and medals were handed out to the top three teams of India (gold), Sri Lanka (silver) and Nepal (bronze).