MANILA, Philippines – Qatar coach Tim Lewis was left to rue what could have been after his team wasted a tremendous opportunity to inflict a costly loss on Team Pilipinas in the FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers.
Pouncing on a flat start by the Filipinos and taking advantage of their own hot shooting from beyond the arc, Qatar surged to a 52-39 halftime lead, and appeared poised to pull off an upset.
However, they fell apart in the third quarter in the face of the Philippines' pressure defense. Qatar put up only 12 points in the pivotal frame, while giving up 28 to the Filipinos – many of which came on easy buckets in transition.
Qatar's collapse was completed in the fourth quarter, when veteran Khalid Abdi Suliman was thrown out after incurring back-to-back technical fouls.
The Philippines went on to win, 92-81, dropping Qatar to 2-6 in the qualifiers.
"I thought we did a great job in the first half," a somber Lewis told reporters after the game. "We disrupted what they wanted to do, we made shots, played as a team."
"Then in the second half, we kind of went away from that," he lamented. "We had a bad run of things."
Without naming names, Lewis said that "some bad decisions" were made by their veteran players, which killed their momentum in the second half.
The coach added that the technical fouls "kind of sucks the wind out of you."
Qatar was down by just five points at the time, 74-69, with still six minutes left to play. But that sequence awarded the Philippines with four free throws, which Alex Cabagnot coolly converted. It turned out to be the start of a back-breaking 12-0 run that broke the game open.
"When you're playing with limited personnel and experience, you expect more from those guys," Lewis said of his veterans. "I think that really hurt us. I think it was a five-point game at the time, and I think that really hurt the momentum for us."
It was not just Suliman's technical fouls and ejection, however. Lewis noted that they were badly out-rebounded in the second round, and committed nine turnovers that made it easy for the Philippines to get the shots they wanted.
All those miscues were too much to overcome for a young Qatar team that is missing six key players.
"When we don't play together and we don't share the ball, a team with relatively inexperienced players with the exception of a handful of guys, guys that are playing for the first time at this level of basketball, we can't do it as individuals. I think that really hurt us down the stretch," said Lewis.
With the chance to claim an upset win blown, Qatar has no choice but to chalk up the game to experience – something that is badly needed by their young players.
"We have a young team," said veteran forward Mohd Yousuf Mohammed, who led the team with 26 points. "We're trying to build something for the future."
"We've had a lot of injuries, six players, and those players were really important for our team," he said. "We missed them, and we have some young guys. Now, we just have to play with them."
"They're just gonna learn to have the experience. I think all the games we've been playing, they're getting a lot of experience and they're getting better."
Qatar will next play Japan on November 30.
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