Gilas ends FIBA run with pride, honor Phl outlasts Senegal for 1st win in 40 years
Joey Villar, Nelson Beltran (The Philippine Star) - September 5, 2014 - 12:00am

SEVILLE, Spain – A thousand thrills for all the pain and despair it suffered from one overtime to another.

Gilas Pilipinas pulled off an 81-79 victory in another extra period over Senegal, snatching its first win that more than made up for all the frustration triggered by its first overtime loss to Croatia.

The Filipinos rode on the shoulder of skipper Jimmy Alapag who carried the fight for the team when everything seemed lost as naturalized player Andray Blatche fouled out with 1:55 left to play.

It was a sweet victory for Gilas, snaring the win in its last game against a scrappy FIBA Africa qualifier behind the diminutive man who stood tall and embellished his final game in international competition with the historic triumph.

“There’s so much energy from the millions of Filipinos all over the world, and we offer this victory to them. All our kababayans around the world deserve this win. It’s a big honor to be part of the team,” said Alapag.

The 33-year-old Alapag made a tremendous exit from the national team with his late-game heroics that kept the team intact in the face of an impending collapse, wrapping up the victory with steady free throw shooting.

What an escape. When Filipino fans all over expected the same agonizing windup suffered at the hands of Croatia, Argentina and Puerto Rico, Alapag showed a heart of steel to clinch the win that affirmed that the Filipinos belong among the world’s elite.

“We’d shown that we belong, we’d shown that we can compete. Now we’ve shown we can win,” said national coach Chot Reyes.

“From the start, we knew our best chance to win is against Senegal. We became a victim of our success with our near upsets (against powerhouse teams Croatia, Greece and Puerto Rico),” said Reyes.

In the weeklong group competition, the Filipinos showed it could stay with the established basketball powers in the world, beginning with their blown overtime game against Croatia that shocked the rest of the group.

Thus the Nationals, which were given two chances – slim and none – to win, will come home with their morale high, a few days before going to Incheon, Korea for the Asian Games.

To the eyes of the Filipinos fans, they’re newly minted heroes.

Down and out, they didn’t fade away quietly in its FIBA World Cup return, gifting the country its first win in 40 years in the global meet.

After couples of heartbreaking losses, the Nationals took their turn to break a heart with a stirring triumph reminiscent of their brave, proud performance at home versus Korea that became their ticket for a first World Cup appearance in 36 years.

Like in Manila in the finest hour of their 2013 FIBA Asian Championship glorious ride, the Filipinos fought and won a battle in the crunch with their naturalized player helpless on the bench.

With Blatche out on fouls in the last 1:55, the Filipinos defied the odds, giving the country their brightest moment in world basketball for ages.

Gilas could have broken into the knockout stage had it salvaged at least one of its close losses.

The loss could relegate Senegal to fourth seeding in Group B competition of this world meet, playing a top seed from another group in the Round of 16.

Junmar Fajardo, Ranidel de Ocampo, Gabe Norwood and LA Tenorio joined Alapag to form the gallant quintet doing the job in those fateful last two minutes that had the Filipino crowd roaring no end.

Fajardo scored underneath on an assist by De Ocampo then Ocampo, Fajardo and Alapag strung up six straight free throws as Gilas zoomed ahead, 77-71, to stay, thus, achieving its goal of pulling off at least a win in its WC comeback.

It’s the first win by the Philippines in the world meet since the Bogs Adornardo-led Phl quintet chalked up two wins for a 13th place finish among 14 participants in the 1974 edition of the world joust in Puerto Rico.

Coach Chot Reyes and the team went up to the gallery at the end of the game, celebrating like they won the championship.

Blatche was a huge force for Gilas before fouling out, coming through with 18 points and 14 rebounds against five errors.

Alapag put up another shining performance with 18 points including three treys while Fajardo delivered his biggest performance with 15 markers and nine boards.

The Filipinos could have won the game in regulation but Blatche and Tenorio missed an attempt each in the last 10 seconds.

Senegal forced the overtime at 64-all as Maeley Ndoye faked off Tenorio before coolly sinking a trey then the Senegale made the needed stoppage in the last 33 seconds.

With a tight zone defense and a sudden burst of three-pointers, the Nationals raced ahead, 35-22, on a 19-0 attack before closing the half at 35-22.

Earlier, Mouhammad Faye, a former Georgia Tech standout and former NBA D-League player now playing in the Greek league, came out firing, nearly outscoring the whole Phl team, 11-13, in the first quarter.

But the Nationals threw off the Senegalese as they switched to zone, holding the FIBA Afro qualifier scoreless in over six minutes in the second frame.

Blatche, Lee and Alapag fired four straight triples to highlight their dizzying second-quarter run cheered on by the flag-waving Philippine gallery.

After a woeful 6-of-17 shooting in the first quarter, the Filipinos improved with a 8-of-17 in the next thus sitting on a 13-point cushion at the half.


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