SJ Belangel scored a buzzer-beating three to give Gilas Pilipinas a thrilling 81-78 victory over South Korea Wednesday, June 16 to clinch a spot in the FIBA Asia Cup at the Angeles University Foundation Sports and Cultural Center in Pampanga.
Belangel’s off-balanced shot from the right elbow off Seounghyun Lee using the glass enabled coach Tab Baldwin’s squad to overcome a 17-point first half deficit and win their first of two meetings with South Korea in the third window of the Asia Cup Qualifiers.
The dramatic ending snapped the Philippines’ five-game losing streak against South Korea, its first since the semifinal triumph in the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship at the Mall of Asia Arena.
“It’s exciting,” said Gilas coach Tab Baldwin. “It’s a shame that we didn’t have 20,000 people in MOA watching that.”
Belangel, who finished with 13 points, was one of many heroes in the contest that also extended the country’s perfect home record against South Korea in major competitions.
Dwight Ramos had 16 points, five rebounds and two steals, Ange Kouame posted 12 points and six rebounds in his first Gilas game as a naturalized player and Kai Sotto put up 11 points, seven rebounds and two assists despite only arriving last May 31 from the US.
Carl Tamayo was also key with 10 points while RJ Abarrientos showed flashes of his uncle Johnny in the second quarter to finish with six points and three assists.
“It’s a great moment for Filipino basketball. I think it’s just a reward for the work that these young fellows have put in. It was a great game of basketball,” Baldwin said.
Even without the presence of fans due to the bubble nature of the Clark window, there was a feeling of ecstasy after Gilas came into the match without the presence of PBA players on the 15-man pool.
The absence of tune-up games during their multiple training bubbles was evident early on as sloppy offense and South Korea’s precise execution put Gilas behind 33-16 in the first half.
But just as when things were already bleak, Gilas was able to find its rhythm with Abarrientos and Sotto leading the way and Kouame ending the half by knocking down a three that cut South Korea’s lead to 42-34.
Gilas kept rolling in the second half behind Ramos, Kouame, Tamayo and Belangel to hold several four-point leads. But several miscues allowed South Korea to climb back behind ex-PBA import Ricardo Ratliffe to reclaim the driver seat, 75-70.
But Gilas refused to surrender, responding with six straight points including Belangel’s layup for a 76-75 lead, 48.3 left in the fourth.
Gilas made a stop on the ensuing play before Kouame scored a putback with a foul to boot to make it 78-75, 10 seconds to go. Kouame, however, muffed the bonus free throw and Hyunjung Lee drained a triple with 2.9 remaining to tie things up and set the stage for Belangel’s winning shot.
“I think I would probably characterize that game as we were shocked at the beginning of the game with the physicality of Korea and it gave us a hard time,” said Baldwin. “We didn’t have a good first quarter but we talked about it and we started grinding and we started trying to respond to the physicality and try to hold our own and I think the guys who came off the bench did a great job and the guys that played the minutes just did a great job we fought our way back.
“(It) could have been anyone’s game, but we were fortunate to win the game and it’s gonna be a great deal of excitement for these young men. There’s no question about that. They’ll remember that for a long time.”
Gilas climbed to a perfect 4-0 record in Group A to book its place in the continental competition slated mid-August in Jakarta.