Gilas Pilipinas could not weather a late offensive storm by Serbia's Boban Marjanovic, as they went down 76-83 in the 2021 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament on Thursday (1 July, Manila time) at the Aleksandar Nikolic Hall in Belgrade.
The all-cadet Filipino crew put up a gallant stand against the seasoned Serbians, but the world No. 5 team proved too much down the stretch as Marjanovic unloaded a game-high 25 points, eight of which coming in at the critical juncture of the match, and hauled down 10 rebounds to seal the deal for the tournament hosts.
Staring down a 16-point lead midway through the third quarter, the Philippines whittled away the double-digit deficit to tie the game at 67-67 in the final frame. The Filipinos then snatched the lead for the first time in the match after RJ Abarrientos converted a transition bucket for a slim 74-73 edge at the 3:49 mark.
The lead, however, would not last long as Marjanovic, the Dallas Maverick centre, commanded attention in the shaded area, scoring bucket after bucket in a clutch offensive barrage that doused the fire out of Gilas.
As disappointing as the outcome may seem, the youthful, Tab Baldwin-mentored team delivered a commendable performance in the face of elite competition.
Ange Kouame carried the torch for the Filipinos as the naturalised Filipino big man put up a team-high 17 points, seven rebounds, three blocks and two assists in a superb all-around performance.
Stepping up in lieu of the injury-stricken Dwight Ramos was Jordan Heading, who provided the much-needed scoring from deep with four triples en route to a 13-point output. He also had three assists and two rebounds to his name.
Justine Baltazar made his presence felt as well with 10 points, four rebounds, and two assists. Kai Sotto, who took turns with Kouame in defending the towering bigs of Serbia, also delivered the goods with 10 points, five boards, two assists and two steals, while RJ Abarrientos finished the contest with nine points.
Gilas now sets its sights on the Dominican Republic as the two teams clash on 2 July, and can still advance to the semi-finals round with a victory. Serbia, on the other hand, moves on to semi-finals round after emerging unscathed in Group A.
Ohmer Bautista is a sports journalist who has covered local and international sporting events in the Philippines. The views expressed are his own.
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