SEVILLE, Spain (UPDATED) – It was a 40-year wait, but Gilas Pilipinas has finally earned a victory on the world stage.
The Philippine men’s national basketball team outlasted a determined Senegal team, 81-79, in overtime to close their FIBA World Cup campaign with a hard-fought victory.
Gilas captain Jimmy Alapag, who may have played his final game for the national team, scored 18 points, including 3 crucial late free throws that sealed the victory in overtime.
The Philippines had to finish without naturalized center Andray Blatche, who fouled out with under two minutes left with 18 points. Cebuano big man June Mar Fajardo had the game of his lifetime with 15 points and 9 rebounds (4 offensive), as he emerged as the center the country had been longing for.
The win was the Philippines’ first at the World Cup since July 12, 1974 when they defeated Central African Republic 87-86.
Senegal went to their strengths early and looked to post up the smaller guards of the Philippines. They ended the first quarter on top by 6, 19-13, after Minnesota Timberwolves center Gorgui Deng knocked down three free throws following a foul by LA Tenorio.
Gilas Pilipinas found its shot from beyond the arc in the second quarter. After hitting only one in the first period, the Philippines drained 5 triples in the second courtesy of Paul Lee, Alapag, Gabe Norwood, and Blatche.
The Reigning Philippine Basketball Association MVP Fajardo came alive in the second period manning the paint effectively against Senegal’s bigs. He ended the first half with 5 points, 5 rebounds with two assists and two steals.
Gilas took a 37-24 lead at halftime but Senegal would respond in the third quarter, outscoring Gilas 20-12 to cut the lead to 5.
The game remained close going into the fourth before Senegal finally took the lead with 2:29 remaining with a basket in transition.
Fajardo ignited the crowd as he found himself open for a two-handed slam to take the lead back, 62-61 with under 2 minutes remaining.
Blatche added to Gilas’ lead with a strong move inside, 64-61.
With only 7.9 seconds remaining, Gilas had the chance to win the ball game. Blatche attacked but missed then Tenorio ended up with the loose ball. He fired a floater but the ball failed to find it’s mark and the game went into overtime, 64-64.
The game was a non-bearing contest as Gilas was defeated on Wednesday night by Puerto Rico, eliminating them from contention for the Round-of-16. It was sweet consolation for the Philippines after defeating Senegal, which had beaten Croatia and Puerto Rico, two teams that Gilas took to the wire in losing efforts.
Afterwards, the Senegal captain Maleye Ndoye had high praise for the Philippine time, saying that Gilas’ heart and will is what pulled the victory out for them.
“It’s a tough game, a tough loss. We knew the Philippines would give everything they had to get a ‘W’ in the tournament,” said Ndoye, who finished with 13 points and 3 rebounds.
“They played with a lot of heart. The way we started the game, we kind of let them get away in the game but we fought back hard in the second half and had a chance to win the game. We just have to congratulate them.”
Malacañang Palace congratulated the team immediately after for their victory.
“Ikarangal natin ang tagumpay ng Gilas Pilipinas! Ipinakita ng ating mga manlalaro ang puso at hindi natitinag na determinasyong magwagi. Iyan din ang diwang nagtataguyod sa pag-unlad at pag-asenso ng ating bansa,” said Palace Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr said in a statement.
(We should all be honored with Gilas Pilipinas’ victory! Our players showed heart and unwavering determination to win. That’s the same spirit that will carry our country toward development and progress.)