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Freeman Cebu Sports

Philippine dream crushed

Rico S. Navarro - The Freeman

PASAY CITY, Philippines  — Had it been a boxing match, Gilas Pilipinas was beaten to the punch repeatedly, but never went down. It bowed to a more technically superior boxer who couldn’t miss his stinging combinations and who landed clutch, momentum-halting punches when Gilas landed its own share of big blows in an effort to turn the tide.

And so for the second straight game in the  2016 FIBA Olympic Qualifier Tournament, Gilas Pilipinas lost and is totally out of the picture for a spot in the Rio Olympics. The credit goes to New Zealand which methodically ousted the Philippines, 89-80, late Wednesday at the Mall of Asia Arena.

The loss was similar to the team’s bowing to France as New Zealand’s backcourt duo of brothers, Tai and Corey Webster combined for 48 points to lead the charge in a game that they led from start to finish. Ironically, Nando de Colo and Tony Parker also combined for 48 points in France’s win over the Philippines.

Statistically, Gilas Pilipinas had a taste of the lead for 14 seconds of the game. The rest of the game belonged New Zealand, thanks to a cohesive and well-executed offense anchored on movement, ball rotation, and finding the best possible shot.

The result was an impressive 58 percent field goal shooting percentage from the two-point range (22 out of 38), many of these coming from lay-ups and drives to the basket. Tai Webster shot 55 percent while Corey Webster was even hotter at 67 percent.

After taking 21-17 lead at the end of the first quarter, New Zealand opened up a 38-31 halftime lead and a 60-53 edge after three quarters.

Buoyed by the hometown crowd, Gilas battled back through Andray Blatche, cutting the lead to only two points at 62-60 after going on a 10-2 run bridging the third and fourth periods. The crowd was at its loudest at this point, hoping for a change in momentum and a win for the Philippines.

But like tired and tested warriors, Tai Webster, Isaac Fotu and Thomas Abercrombie combined for a counter-run of their own to give New Zealand an insurmountable 78-65 lead with 2:35 left in the game.

Troy Rosario and Blatche drilled triples in reply, but Tai and Corey Webster were there again to thwart any rally from happening.

Like the France game, the big men also stood out to support the guards with Isaac Fotu and Abercrombie coming up with double digit performances. Tai  Webster had 11 rebounds to go with his 25 points. He also shot 91 percent from the free throw line. Corey Webster added 23 as Fotu and Abercrombie combined for 30 points.

Blatche led Gilas Pilipinas with 30 points, including 17 in the fourth quarter, Jayson Castro added 13 while Jeff Chan and June Mar Fajardo had 11 apiece.

Overall, New Zealand played a better brand of team play on offense which silenced the crowd with timely and easy baskets coming off well-executed plays.

New Zealand head coach Paul Henare said his team managed to weather the storm by maintaining their composure each time the Philippines would launch scoring runs. He also added that it was honor to have coached against his former coach and mentor in Gilas Pilipinas coach Tab Baldwin at the international level.

Philippine team captain Gabe Norwood said they were at a loss of words on how to describe the mood in the locker room after the game. “We did our best but they always had answers,” he said.

Baldwin also added that the Philippines will need more experience at this level of international basketball to be more competitive in the future.

In the other game, Canada had some scary moments before pulling off a 58-55 win over Senegal, to sweep Group A. Cory Joseph led Canada with 13 points while Tyler Ennis added 11. Maurice Ndour led Senegal with 16 while Clevin Hannah had 13.

The OQT takes a rest day today with the semifinals to be played tomorrow and the finals on Sunday. Only one team from the Manila OQT will qualify for the Rio Olympics next month. Also ongoing are OQTs in Serbia and Italy.  (FREEMAN)

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