Gilas Pilipinas secured their spot at the FIBA Asia Cup 2021 after outplaying South Korea, 81-78, in a nail-biting match.
After their dramatic win in the semifinals of the FIBA Asia Cup in 2013, it took eight years for Gilas to finally garner a victory against this formidable opponent.
The back and forth affair between both squads ended with a triple from the right wing by SJ Belangel with 2.9 seconds to go. The shot capped a tremendous effort made by a young Gilas Pilipinas team after being down by as much as 17 points against a talented South Korean Squad.
Figuring it out early
Gilas Pilipinas was sluggish early on as their offense struggled to put points on the board. Meanwhile, the Korean’s cohesive play forced turnovers throughout the first quarter but also struggled to find baskets on the other court. Dwight Ramos gave the Philippines a majority of the action within the opening minutes as he scored the team’s first six points.
With four and a half minutes to go in the first quarter, both teams were only able to garner six points each, until South Korea went on a scoring spree that started from Lee Hyunjung’s three-point shooting. Lee gave life to his team’s offense by scoring five straight points, including a breakaway dunk. Gilas tried to weather the storm as Mike Nieto hit a three-pointer, but Korea had already started picking up the pace as Moon Seonggon’s three-pointer gave their team an early 21-12 lead in the first period after a 15-6 run to end the first quarter.
To start the second quarter, the Koreans proved that their offense kicked into a higher gear as Ra Guna opened the period scoring in the paint through a layup and a breakaway dunk. Gilas continued to turn the ball over which halted their offensive flow. Together with that, Moon and Jeon Seonghyen each made three-pointers as South Korea jumped to a 33-16 lead with six minutes left on the second frame.
Once the lead ballooned, Coach Tab Baldwin tried to seek points from his bench. Carl Tamayo, RJ Abarrientos, and Kai Sotto answered the call as Gilas made efforts to pull closer. Abarrientos showed his elite guard skills by attacking the paint, while Sotto showed a flurry of moves against Ra Guna—proving his worth as the country’s top prospect. After a cheeky finish by Abarrientos, the score was 44-33 with 17 seconds to go. Angelo Kouame ends the first half on a high note as he successfully nets a three-pointer to beat the clock, leading to a 44-36 score at the half in favor of South Korea.
At the start of the second half, South Korea continued their hot shooting with Lee draining a three-pointer to extend their lead up to 11 points, 47-36. But it was countered by a ten-to-nothing run by Ramos with a three-pointer and a pair of free throws.
With four minutes left in the third quarter, Korean top scorer Ra continued to show his presence down low to stop the run of the Gilas, scoring a put-back to extend their lead to 52-46. On the flipside, Gilas showed their own brand of basketball by slowing down the three-point shooting of the Koreans, only allowing them to shoot two out eleven from deep.
Gilas Pilipinas tightened up their defense with Ramos who converted a fast break layup to tie the game with three minutes left in the quarter. In the next play, Isaac Go grabbed an offensive rebound and scored a putback to take the lead, 54-52, for the Philippines, the first time in the game.
In the last ten minutes, Gilas wasted no time and continued their scoring punch in the opening minutes with Belangel performing a layup and an assist to Kouame for three points, 61-57. The Korean national team never surrendered and fought back. Ra scored a wide open jumper and putback dunk and a three-pointer from Jeon to retake the lead, 75-70, with only roughly two and a half minutes left in the ball game.
As time ticks down coach Balwin brings back his starters to finish the game for the home squad. Belangel and Kouame both scored in the paint to get the lead back to the Philippines, 78-75. Lee ties the game with a three from an outlet pass from Byeon with only 2.9 ticks left in the game clock. That forced coach Balwin to call his last two timeouts. With the game on the line, Belangel stepped up and drained an off-balance three-point shot to break the Korean curse.
Ramos emerged the top scorer for the Philippines with 16 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 steals, while Belangel chipped in with 13 points and 5 rebounds to cruise past the tough Korean squad who fell 2-1 in Group A while the Philippines improve to 4-0 and qualified for the FIBA Asia Cup 2021 in Jakarta, Indonesia.
After long speculation, Sotto made his debut for the men’s national team and contributed 11 points and 7 rebounds off the bench, while naturalized player Kouame showed up and scored 12 points and grabbed 6 rebounds.
“We were shocked at the beginning of the game [by] the physicality of Korea,” coach Balwin told the media after the neck and neck fight against the South Korean team. “We talked about it and we started grinding and we started to hold our own,” he added.
Gilas Pilipinas will be back for another tough match against Southeast Asian rival Indonesia led by their naturalized player Lester Prosper and coach Rajko Toroman this Friday, June 18 at 6 pm.
Philippines 81- Ramos 16, Belangel 13, Kouame 12, Sotto 11, Tamayo 10, Abarrientos 6, Baltazar 6, Go 4, Nieto 3
South Korea 78- Ra 24, H.Lee 15, Jeon 9, S.Lee 9, Kang 7, Moon 6, Yang 4, Kim 2, D.Lee 2
Quarter scores: 12-21, 36-44, 56-57, 81-78