SENDAI (FIBA World Championship) - Fadi El Khatib had a big second half to lift Lebanon to an 82-72 win over Venezuela in the opening game of Group A.
El Khatib was unstoppable as he scored 27 points after half-time - including 16 in the third quarter alone - and pretty much was Lebanon's only offensive threat in the last two quarters. He finished with a game-high 35.
The visitors'lack of offensive firepower besides that provided by the swingman may be a problem against some of their better opponents in Group A, but on a day when Venezuela collapsed after half-time, it was enough to earn a very important win.
Both teams had a tough start trying to shake off first game jitters and combined for 31 first half turnovers, with Lebanon accounting for 17 of those.
But El Khatib's superb third quarter display made this game competitive again as Paul Coughter's players came out looking more assertive while Venezuela - who had dominated for most of the first half - couldn't maintain their high level of intensity.
Venezuela did keep it close thanks to a solid second half effort by center Richard Lugo, who scored 14 of his 16 points after the break.
Oscar Torres was kept in check by Lebanon's defense and Tomas Aguilera who got the home team off to a great start and an early double digit lead cooled off after the break.
Venezuela had held a 40-36 lead at half-time despite a flurry of turnovers in the second quarter.
Nestor Salazar's men looked the better side for much of the first half, with Tomas Aguilera doing the damage offensively early on to open a double digit lead, 17-6 midway through the first quarter.
But Lebanon, who had its fair share of turnovers in the opening stages of the game, recovered and behind a shooting barrage by Brian Beshara-Feghali and Roy Samaha went on a 7-0 run to take the lead, 23-20 at the end of the first period.
The second quarter saw a lot of sloppy play from both teams. Turnovers were at a premium and neither side could really pull away because of the poor ballhandling.
The two teams combined for 31 first half turnovers, Lebanon having a slight edge with 17 of those to their name.
El Khatib had 12 points in the first six minutes of the third quarter as Lebanon erased its four-point half-time deficit and started building its own lead.
However, more turnovers came from both teams and that enabled Venezuela to get back into the game.
Neither team would build a lead of more than five points until the last minute of the game when Lebanon went ahead by nine, 76-67 as Venezuela could not make a field goal for more than 2 minutes.
But Torres banked in a three-pointer and Victor Diaz stole the ball off the inbound pass to make a quick lay-up and got Venezuela back within 4, 76-72.
That however would be as close as they would get as Rony Fahed and El Kathib were able to convert from the free-throw line to seal the deal.
"This was a tough game but we did very well to recover after half-time," El Khatib said afterwards.
"We knew we were going to have a tough challenge against a team like Venezuela but we were well-prepared mentally and physically. We have a lot of motivation and are here to represent the Lebanese people."
Lebanon head coach Paul Coughton said he was not surprised by El Khatib's second half display.
"Venezuela did a very good job on him in the first half, keeping him in check and denying him the ball. But in the second half they lost a bit of their intensity and we were able to play a more uptempo style of basketball. That's the kind of game that fits Fadi the most and he certainly did showed that as he got us back into the game and in a position to win."
By Simon Wilkinson.