SJ Belangel sank a wild shot at the buzzer to lift Gilas Pilipinas past South Korea, 81-78, in the 2021 FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers, Wednesday night at the AUF Sports and Cultural Center in Angeles, Pampanga.
The heady floor general banked in the last-gasp trey all over the defense to give the country its first win over its long-time tormentors in eight years, or since that historic semis triumph in the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship in Manila.
Belangel finished with 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting from the field, on top five rebounds, and two assists in the victory that allowed the Filipino dribblers to secure a ticket to the Asia Cup proper in August in Jakarta, Indonesia.
“It’s a shame that we didn’t have 20,000 people watching that. But you know, what we did have, we had a country behind us,” expressed head coach Tab Baldwin. “We could feel how much the country wanted something positive.
“And, I think we were all extremely proud to be able to bring them something surprising. To be able to bring them something that’s going to make Filipinos all around the world happy… It’s a great moment for Filipino basketball.”
Dwight Ramos top-scored for Gilas with 16 points and five boards as the young hoopers showed no fear whatsoever under the bright lights.
Naturalized center Ange Kouame produced 11 points, six caroms, and a block. Kai Sotto flexed how much he has grown with 11 points, seven rebounds, two assists, and a steal, as Carl Tamayo chimed in 10 markers.
“It could have been anybody’s game. We were fortunate to win the game. 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,” said Baldwin.
Gilas was actually in a precarious position early on, trailing by as much as 17 points, 16-33, approaching the midway mark of the second frame as the team could not get into the flow it was looking to have.
The Nationals, though, chipped away the deficit slowly. They managed to trim that to just eight, 44-36, at the turn to make it a manageable gap.
The break appeared to be of great help as the home team managed to stifle the opposition that led to plenty of missed shots, and Isaac Go’s one-hander over the defense finally put them ahead, 54-52, with 1:42 to go in the third.
Gilas went on to lead by five, 64-59, thanks to Kouame with 6:30 remaining in the final frame but Korea got its groove back moments later. Ricardo Ratliffe led a 9-0 run to give the East Asian side a 75-70 lead with 2:20 to go.
But Baldwin’s wards could not be denied, responding with eight straight — ended by a Kouame putback — for a three-point lead with 10.5 seconds left. He could have widened it to four, but he missed his bonus.
That gave Korea more than enough room to tie the game, and that’s exactly what they did as young star Lee Hyun-jung sank a fly-by three-pointer off the break to make it a 78-all affair with only 2.5 seconds to spare.
But then, the Miracle in Angeles took place. Belangel, on one foot, launched the outside all over the defense of the much bigger Lee Seonghyun, and the whole Gilas crew erupted in jubilation as he the shot was counted.
Baldwin admitted that Belangel was just an option in the play they drew up. “It was multi-optional, but the primary option we wanted was to get Carl Tamayo under the basket with the ball on a direct entry pass from Dwight.
“But they switched Ra on to Carl, and Ange didn’t quite execute the way we wanted, so the middle of the lane wasn’t available, and Dwight did the smart thing,” added the multi-decorated coach.
“Because the worst thing would have been to get a five-second call and give Korea the ball with a chance to win the game. So Dwight took the first available option, and that was SJ, and SJ just made a play.”
Korea was led by Ratliffe with 24 points and 15 rebounds. Lee supplied 15 points, as they were the only double-digit scorers for their side.
Gilas will look to conquer the Koreans on Sunday, June 20, at 6:00 p.m., although it has its sights set first on the Indonesia match on Friday, June 18, in the battle of Southeast Asia.
Philippines 81 — Ramos 16, Belangel 13, Kouame 12, Sotto 11, Tamayo 10, Abarrientos 6, Baltazar 6, Go 4, Nieto 3, Tungcab 0.
South Korea 78 –– Ra 24, Lee HJ 15, Lee SH 9, Jeon 9, Kang 7, Moon 6, Yang 4, Kim 2, Lee DS 2, Byeon 0.
Quarterscores: 12-21, 36-44, 56-57, 81-78.