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Austria admits SMB couldn't handle Stephenson, sets sights on third place

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Beermen no match for Stephenson, Liaoning (1:19)

SMB's Terrific 12 run comes to an end against Liaoning behind former Los Angeles Lakers player Lance Stephenson's 35 points. (1:19)

MACAU - San Miguel Beer got its behind kicked by Liaoning, but coach Leo Austria said the Beermen will try to salvage third place when they face the Zheijiang Guangzha Lions in the 2019 East Asia Super League Terrific 12 consolation round on Sunday.

The Beermen got a rude awakening when they bowed to a superbly-conditioned Liaoning Flying Leopards, 111-89, in their knockout semifinal match Saturday night.

"We will take the (battle for third place) game seriously because we're here not just to participate. We came here also to compete," stressed Austria during the post-game press conference on Saturday.

"It will help us also in the third conference. So for us, we have to develop a winning attitude. Every game is really important."

Austria admitted they had no answer to Liaoning imports Lance Stephenson and Salah Mejri, who spearheaded the Chinese ballclub's game-long blitzkrieg.

"At the start, we thought we will play well till the end, but we got to foul trouble, especially our import Dez Wells. And then we gave up 15 points in turnovers," Austria said. "Lance is really a high-caliber player and it's hard to contain him. Besides he has a lot of support from former Dallas Maverick Salah Mejri and then a lot of local players performed well, too."

Stephenson and Mejri combined for 56 points and 21 rebounds.

But the biggest story was Liaoning's 15 three-point conversions, which SMB guard Von Pessumal took note.

"When we play team a like this, they have a really good system. They are well-coached and they have two imports who are world-class athletes," shared Pessumal, who contributed 11 points off the bench.

"But they are hitting their shots, also, 15 three-pointers, on top of Lance driving to the basket," he added. "You just have to challenge their shots and hope they miss because there's nothing you can really do. They just got too much star power."

Asked if the Beermen intend to join the Terrific 12 next year, Austria looks forward to returning to the tournament organized by East Asia Super League.

"We're so lucky to be invited in this tournament. And we look forward to getting invited here next year because we are gaining a lot of knowledge and experience here," explained the eight-time PBA champion coach.

"We're seeing a lot of good players from the KBL, the CBA and teams from Japan. So by joining this tournament, you can see your neighborhood how good they are and we can learn from them, too."

Meanwhile, Stephenson said his verbal spat with San Miguel Beer guard Chris Ross simply stays on the court.

The former LA Laker guard had a brief exchange with Ross after getting tangled up in the early stages of the third quarter and the Flying Leopards up big, 55-32.

Both were quickly slapped with double technical fouls.

"I play hard all the time. I'm just going out there to playing hard. Other guys come up here and play hard against me because they want to win but I just got to be smart," Stephenson said.

The nine-year NBA veteran said there are times he feels like some players try to hurt him, and it's but natural for him to protect himself.

"When I'm on the floor, I got to protect myself. I want to stay healthy. But there's no beef. We shake hands after the game," he said. "Once the game is over, we shake hands and we go our ways."

The sweet-shooting Stephenson is confident the Flying Leopards can win the Terrific 12 crown, noting how hard his teammates have played in the tournament.

"I'm very confident of winning the championship game," said Stephenson, selected 40th overall by the Indiana Pacers in the 2010 NBA Draft.

"This (San Miguel) team is really good. Every team we played is very good, but the coach is on us and he's mentally and physically prepared us before the game. We know every position and we all are on the same page, that's why we play so well together."