BOCAUE – Basking in the limelight and warm love from the entire nation that had his back through the years, Justin Brownlee made sure to show up and deliver for them.
The resident PBA import sparked Gilas Pilipinas to a convincing 107-96 victory over Lebanon to open the sixth and final window of the FIBA World Cup Asian qualifiers on a good note, much to the delight of the good-sized crowd inside the Philippine Arena here.
Brownlee took the scoring cudgels in the first half where the Filipinos built a double-digit advantage before the rest of the nationals followed suit in the searing final two quarters that completely broke the game apart.
Playing without the towering presence of Kai Sotto and Japeth Aguilar, the Filipinos leaned on their speed and on-point outside shooting to erase the agony of defeat they suffered at the hands of the Lebanese in the last window.
Brownlee, who notched his first pair of points on back-to-back triples, wound up with an all-around effort of 17 points, five assists, four rebounds and two steals to lead a well-balanced Gilas assault that had six other players in double-digits scoring.
Brownlee’s Ginebra running mate Jamie Malonzo provided the support with 15 points and a pair of highlight plays that triggered wild cheers from the crowd that also included Filipino celebrities and influencers and the newly-announced FIBA World Cup Ambassador and former NBA player Carmelo Anthony
Mason Amos also impressed in his senior’s debut with 13 points – all of which came in the second half. Ray Parks, Dwight Ramos and the returning Jordan Heading added 10 points apiece, all taking part in Gilas' scorching shooting from the distance with 17 threes.
The Filipinos uncorked a searing 11-0 run in the second frame which turned a slim 25-19 lead into a 36-19 advantage – a lead that Gilas never relinquished the rest of the way as guys like Malonzo, Amos and Ramos all came alive in the second half as the lead ballooned to as many as 23 points, 90-67, in the final frame.
Amir Saoud carried the fight for the Wael Arakji-less Lebanon with 27 points while fellow veterans Hayk Gyokchyan and Sergio El Darwich added 21 and 19 points, respectively – all of which, however, went down the drain as Lebanon saw its five-game winning streak in the window come to an end.