(UPDATED) KUALA LUMPUR -- In a game that was far more eventful than the final score indicated, Gilas Pilipinas dismantled Malaysia, 98-66, to complete a sweep of Group A in the 2017 Southeast Asian Games at the MABA Stadium on Wednesday night here.
With police having to turn back fans who wanted to enter the venue, the stage was set for a showdown between the tournament favorites and the home team.
Malaysia, feeding off its fans' energy, clawed its way out of an early hole and took a surprising 20-18 advantage entering the second quarter. But the Philippines, buoyed by the aggressive play of Kiefer Ravena and Kobe Paras, outscored the hosts 29-15 in the second quarter, and the rout was on from there.
With the victory, the Philippines completed a sweep of Group A to formally advance to the knockout quarterfinals.
"Every game was a learning lesson," said Paras, who scored 16 points including a crowd-pleasing dunk in the final minute of the game. "The first round is done and now we're focusing on whoever we'll go up against in the semifinals."
Gilas Pilipinas led by as many as 35 points, 95-60, but the lopsided nature of the game did not stop tempers from flaring.
It was already a physical encounter that featured several players sprawling on the floor, but the intensity peaked halfway through the third quarter when Kevin Ferrer found himself tangled up with Malaysia's Kuek Tian Yuan.
Several players got involved in the fracas, with Baser Amer in particular trying to separate Ferrer and Kuek, only to be elbowed for his troubles. Cruz also tried to play the role of peacemaker.
To the surprise of the Philippine team, however, both Amer and Cruz were ejected from the contest, and the players later told reporters that the referees said they were trying to instigate a fight. Ferrer and Kuek both stayed in the game.
"Wala akong kasalanan," Cruz said. "Malinis ang konsensya ko."
"Ang intention ko lang doon is matulungan si Kevin," said Amer, for his part.
If the Malaysian fans were hoping that the incident would rattle Gilas, they were sorely disappointed. Following Amer and Cruz's ejections, the Filipinos rattled off a 16-6 wind-up to end the third, and were up 73-47 entering the final quarter.
With the game well in hand, Paras took the opportunity to wow the appreciative Filipino crowd with his athleticism in the fourth quarter, capped by the explosive baseline dunk off a perfect bounce pass from Ferrer.
"It gave me confidence," Paras said of his dunk. "For me, it was for the crowd."
Amer, who did not play against Myanmar Tuesday to rest a bruised thigh, had 10 points before he fouled out, while Cruz added three points. Christian Standhardinger, who is fast becoming another fan favorite here, had a double-double of 18 points and 18 rebounds.
Ravena added 12 points and three assists, as Gilas Pilipinas shot 50% from the field and had a 53-31 rebounding advantage.
Kuek finished with 14 points to lead Malaysia, which is now eliminated from the semifinals.
For more sports coverage, visit the ABS-CBN Sports website.