Gilas Pilipinas players celebrate after winning their 2014 FIBA World basketball championships Group B match against Senegal at the Palacio Municipal de Deportes in Sevilla on Thursday. Philippines won the match 81-79. Photo by Cristina Quicler, Agence France-Presse
SEVILLE, Spain -- (UPDATE) Gilas Pilipinas upended Senegal with a down-the-wire 81-79 finish in overtime to finally nab a victory at the FIBA World Cup of Basketball on Thursday.
The nationals appeared headed for another end-game collapse when they squandered a double digit lead in the fourth quarter.
But Jimmy Alapag, who finished the game with 18 points, showed poise by burying nine of his 11 crucial free-throw shots, which spelled victory for the nationals.
Andray Blatche, for his part, churned out a double double performance of 18 points and 14 rebounds before fouling out in overtime.
June Mar Fajardo also held his own against Senegalese bigs Hamady NDiaye and Maleye NDoye and scored 15 points to go with his nine rebounds.
"Kailangan ko mag-step up kasi ako talaga 'yung backup ni Andray. So ginagawa ko lang 'yung trabaho ko. Buti 'yung bola pumupunta sa akin," Fajardo said.
After staring at a 19-13 first-quarter deficit, Gilas shut down Senegal to just merely five points in the second canto for a 37-24 halftime lead.
But Gorgui Deng, Maurice NDour and Xane D'Almaieda led the Senegalese in the next two quarters. NDour's looper with 2:29 left in the fourth canto pushed Senegal ahead, 61-60.
It was a back and forth affair for both teams until Blatche's turnaround shot pushed Gilas up by three points, 64-61. Ndoye, however, nailed a three to knot the scores 64-all and send the game into overtime.
Senegal was leading by one in the game extension when Alapag, who was going for a layup, got undercut by Mouhammad Faye. This led to a near fight between LA Tenorio and Dieng.
Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and Alapag was awarded two free throws plus ball possession.
After Alapag's free throws, Blatche went on for a slam that gave Gilas a 69-67 lead. Dieng tied the game again and D'Almeida got fouled by Blatche, sending the naturalized player out of the game.
Gilas then relied on their steady hands in the final seconds as Senegal resorted to fouls to stop the Filipinos. But Fajardo and Alapag hit most of their free throw shots and were able to bail out Gilas.
Faye led Senegal with 20 points, while NDoye, Dieng and NDour had 13 points apiece.
It was a fitting victory for Gilas, which started the tournament with an overtime loss to Croatia. The nationals were dominated by Greece, but were able to score near wins against Argentina and Puerto Rico.
Gilas head coach Chot Reyes is proud of how the Philippine national team played against taller players, noting the distinctive all-out brand of basketball the Filipinos showed the world.
"It's all heart and secondly Pinoys play a distinctive kind of basketball. It looks like street ball. It looks like bara-bara. Our only chance is to really play a different style, a style that these guys are not used to," he said.
Jeiel Guarino, one of the fans who went to Spain to see Gilas play, was ecstatic about the victory.
"Eto wala nang boses, pero sa wakas kahit two points lang, a win is a win," he said. "Unang laro natin natalo tayo by overtime, pero 'yung huling laban panalo by overtime."
Filipina Ednalyn Moorcroft, who watched all of Gilas' games with her Canadian husband Bradley, was impressed by the nationals' resilience.
"Kahit na ngayon lang tayo nanalo, from the the first game until the last, our players showed their guts, their 'gilas'. They really played hard and great," she said.
High spirits going to Asiad
San Beda Team manager Jude Roque said the win should give Gilas a morale-boost going to the Asian Games, which will take place in South Korea this month.
"Magandang kumpiyansa to papunta sa Asian Games. Siyempre mataas na level of competition ito eh. Ngayon alam na ng mga players natin na kaya nating tumapat sa mga mas malalakas na team," said Roque.
"Magandang kumpiyansa 'yon laban sa kapwa Asian teams."
Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario was also present at the arena and was happy with Gilas' effort.
"That victory was a good one, great victory. That makes it great, right?" he said.
"I think the Filipino should be proud of this team i think they represented the country with distinction."--with reports from TJ Manotoc, ABS-CBN News