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Castro takes over as Gilas turns back pesky Japanese

MANILA, Philippines – Gilas Pilipinas withstood a Japan squad that just won’t go away, hacking out a 77-71 win to start its campaign in the FIBA World Cup qualifiers at the Komazawa Gymnasium in Tokyo Friday night.

Jayson Castro, a two-time FIBA Asia Best Guard, top scored with 20 points and took charge in the most crucial moment of the game as the Nationals won their opening game in Group B competition in this WC qualifiers among 16 nations from the Asia/Oceania region.

Andray Blatche, Matthew Wright and Gabe Norwood also played key roles as Gilas frustrated the Japanese and their home crowd, and lined themselves up for a two-game sweep in Round One of the qualifiers versus Chinese Taipei on Monday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

With a better field shooting, the Nationals took the initiative most of the way but still needed clutch baskets by Castro at the finish to dispose of a Japanese side that competed well with their sleek running game and good perimeter shooting.

Castro found an answer on each clutch basket by Japanese guard Yuki Togashi in the crunch, with the last bucket made by the Filipino playmaker – a booming straight-away trey – all but sealing Gilas’ win at 75-69.

The TNT KaTropa ace player played 28 minutes and collected sterling all-around numbers of 20 points, seven rebounds, six assists and one steal against one turnover.

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Blatche had his own solid all-around stats with 13 markers, 12 boards, five dish-offs and three steals but committed six errors.

The Nationals sat on a 37-28 lead at the half but blew it away on a woeful start in the second half where they turned the ball over four times and missed all their first three attempts in the first three minutes.

Japan had seized the lead at 40-37 before the Filipinos broke their silence on a trey by Wright.

The Filipinos reestablished a double-digit spread at 70-60 but the Japanese just won’t give up, keeping on fighting back as they pushed the ball and attacked the basket on every opportunity.

Makoto Hiejima fired 20 points while naturalized player Ira Brown came through with 15 boards and 10 markers for the Japanese, who will travel to Adelaide to play their second game against Australia on Monday.

The scores:

Philippines 77 – Castro 20, Blatche 13, Wright 12, Norwood 10, Fajardo 6, Aguilar 5, Pogoy 5, Abueva 5, Ravena 1, Alas 0, Rosario 0.

Japan 71 – Hiejima 20, Brown 10, Tanaka 10, Togashi 8, Harimoto 7, Baba 7, Shinoyama 4, Takeuchi 3, Ota 2, Uto 0, Furukawa 0.

Quarterscores: 18-10, 37-28, 59-55, 77-71

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