WUHAN – Displaying its true game and true worth only in the second half, Smart Gilas Pilipinas hurdled Syria just the same at the close of the 26th FIBA Asia Championship group plays Wednesday night. The Nationals stopped the Syrians with a lockdown defense in the last two quarters and pulled off a 75-52 win that sent them to the quarterfinals versus Chinese-Taipei.
Apparently, coach Rajko Toroman’s idea was to throw off the Taiwanese who were in full force in the gallery, dissecting every move of Smart Gilas. “I deliberately did not put in that much Jimmy Alapag and Kelly Williams in the first half as I calculated some things. We missed lot of shots and it was good we were able to turn things around in the second half,” said Toroman. “And it’s now the (knockout) games. We’re looking forward to play Chinese Taipei in the quarterfinals. We know it’s not going to be easy but we’re optimistic,” Toroman also said. The knockout games begin Friday with China up against against Lebanon, Iran versus Jordan and Korea against Japan in the other quarterfinal pairings. The Nationals swept the Jordanians, the Japanese and the Syrians in the second stage of the elims phase and thus placed second behind the host team in Group F. Jordan gained the last quarters seat in the group after turning back United Arab Emirates, 94-80, earlier in the day.
Two-time defending champion Iran topped Group E as it completed a six-game sweep with a 79-62 conquest of Korea. Chinese-Taipei put the lock on third spot in the same group as it waylaid Malaysia, 109-62, while Lebanon came in fourth after dumping Uzbekistan, 101-53.
Toroman had the luxury of experimenting on some plays, having clinched a good spot in the quarters with their key win over Japan Tuesday. Two early fouls committed by Marcus Douthit stymied Smart Gilas, and the Nationals needed to exert much effort in the second half to overcome a 23-32 halftime deficit. Jimmy Alapag, Ranidel de Ocampo and Marcio Lassiter picked up their game in the second half, helping Douthit get the team back into the fight and win it with plenty to spare.
The Nationals finally buckled down to work and beat the Syrians by 32, 52-20, in the final half. “That was the worst half we played in the whole tournament,” said Syrian coach Goran Milijevic of their second-half meltdown in the face of Smart Gilas’ pressing defense and attacking offense. There was no stopping Smart Gilas after surging ahead at 49-42. As in their game versus Japan, Gilas’ second unit struggled coming off the bench, and the Syrians took advantage to enjoy a nine-point lead, 32-23, at the half.
The Syrian reserves outscored their Gilas counterparts, 21-8, enabling their team to lead by as many as 10 in the first half. Douthit had a hot start, scoring all of Smart Gilas first 12 points but had to be relieved after picking up a second foul just eight minutes into the game. The Nationals lost their rhythm and momentum as Douthit sat out the next nine minutes of the game. While Douthit converted six of seven field goal attempts, the rest of the team could make only 3-of-29 in the first two quarters.
(SB) The scores: Smart Gilas Phl 75 – Douthit 20, Tiu 8, De Ocampo 8, Lutz 7, Casio 7, Alapag 6, Lassiter 5, Taulava 4, Aguilar 4, Barroca 2, Williams 2, Baracael 2. Syria 52 – Al Hamowi 11, Georges 9, Jililati 8, Nalbadian 6, Al Saman 5, Deeb 4, Lubus 3, Daks 2, Osfira 0, Al Katib 0. Quarterscores: 14-11, 23-32, 49-45, 75-52.