By Michael Angelo S. Murillo, Senior Reporter
GILAS Pilipinas lost to Serbia, 83-76, in its opening match at the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Belgrade early Thursday morning (Manila time) but not after making the host sweat.
The Philippine national team of young cadet players showed strong resolve in turning a game seen to be dominated by the world number five Serbians in the lead-up into a tightly fought contest.
Tab Baldwin-coached Gilas competed throughout the 40-minute Group A contest at the Aleksandar Nikolić Hall, even holding the lead, 74-73, with 3:50 left in the match.
Serbia’s National Basketball Association player Boban Marjanović and Dejan Davidovac led their team to a strong start as they raced to an early 11-2 lead in the opening three minutes of the first quarter.
But Filipino naturalized player Ange Kouame would help Gilas narrow the gap, 13-12, in the next four minutes.
The host eventually survived the Philippines’ spirited charge, holding a 22-16 advantage at the end of the opening frame.
In the second quarter, Gilas continued with its aggressive play but Serbia did a better job of holding it at bay en route to establishing a 45-34 cushion at the half time break.
The Philippines struggled early in the third canto which saw its deficit balloon to 16 points, 56-40, at the 6:35 mark.
Mr. Kouame, Kai Sotto, Jordan Heading and Justine Baltazar then led a 22-11 run for Gilas after to push their team to within striking distance, 67-62, entering the payoff quarter.
In the fourth, the Philippines tied the count at 67-all inside the opening minute with a triple from Carl Tamayo and a deuce by Mike Nieto.
Serbia managed to regain control thereafter and stay ahead for much of the time until a basket from Gilas guard RJ Abarrientos gave the Philippines the lead, 74-73, with 3:50 to go.
Dallas Maverick’s 7’4” center Marjanović then took over, scoring Serbia’s next eight points to hand his team an 81-76 advantage with 35 seconds remaining.
Two free throws from Danilo Andijusic sealed the victory for the Serbians.
Mr. Kouame led Gilas’ spirited performance with 17 points, seven rebounds and three blocks.
Filipino-Australian Heading finished with 13 points, going 4-of-5 from beyond the arc, while Mr. Sotto had 10 points, five rebounds and two assists.
Mr. Baltazar was the other Gilas player in double-digit scoring with 10.
Serbia, which is now through to the crossover semifinals, was led by Mr. Marjanović who had a double-double of 25 points and 11 rebounds.
He was backstopped by Ognjen Dobrić, who had 16 points, and former NBA campaigner Miloš Teodosić (13 points and six assists).
Mr. Baldwin after the game said he was proud with the way his team fought but admitted they missed out on completing a huge upset.
“I was very proud of the effort today. I want to play better than what we played and I know that we can be better,” the Gilas coach said. “We will play better.”
It will be a short turnaround for the Philippines as it plays the Dominican Republic early on Friday morning (2:30 a.m.) for a spot in the next round of the tournament.
The Gilas-Dominican Republic game can be seen over One Sports and One Sports+ as well as through online livestream by way of Smart Gigafest (gigafest.smart).