Gilas Pilipinas gave host Serbia a major scare but fell short of pulling off a monumental upset, 76-83, in the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Belgrade on Wednesday, June 30 (Thursday, July 1, Manila time).
The tenacious Filipinos momentarily held the lead in the fourth quarter only to witness the world No. 5 Serbians rely on NBA big man Boban Marjanovic to bring them home.
Marjanovic of the Dallas Mavericks scored 8 of his 25 points in the final four minutes as Serbia, which toppled the Dominican Republic the day before, improved to 2-0 for the top seed in Group A.
Buried by as many as 16 points, the Philippines stunned the hometown crowd at the Aleksandar Nikolic Hall as RJ Abarrientos gave his side a 74-73 advantage with 3:50 minutes left.
However, Serbia quickly regained the upper hand off back-to-back buckets from the 7-foot-3 Marjanovic, who also finished with 11 rebounds.
Justine Baltazar trimmed the Philippines’ deficit to a whisker, 76-77, but it did not help the Filipinos’ cause when he and SJ Belangel muffed open three-pointers that would have given them back the lead.
Marjanovic then sealed the win for Serbia with another pair of buckets, the last of which was a turnaround hook shot over Angelo Kouame with 36 ticks remaining.
Kouame led the way for the Philippines with 17 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 blocks, while Jordan Heading chimed in 13 points on a 4-of-5 clip from long range to go with 3 assists.
Kai Sotto also delivered in the losing effort with 10 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 blocks, while Baltazar added 10 points and 4 rebounds.
With an average age of 22 years old, the Filipinos’ experience paled in comparison to the Serbians, who have an average age of 29 and have six players who are at least 30.
But the all-cadet crew hardly looked intimated as they swung a 40-56 deficit in the third quarter to a 67-67 deadlock early in the final salvo off a Carl Tamayo triple and a Mike Nieto bucket.
Gilas Pilipinas missed the services of Dwight Ramos, its leading scorer in the FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers.
Ramos sat out against Serbia as he continues to recover from a strained groin he suffered a week ago.
Meanwhile, Serbia did not field Miami Heat forward Nemanja Bjelica and Nikola Kalinic due to “blows” they sustained against the Dominican Republic.
Ognjen Dobric filled the void left by Bjelica as he fired 16 points spiked by 4 triples, while former Los Angeles Clippers guard Milos Teodosic put up 13 points, 6 assists, and 4 rebounds.
With only the top two teams advancing to the knockout rounds, the Philippines needs to beat the Dominican Republic on Friday, July 2 (Manila time) to clinch the last semifinals berth available in Group A.
Serbia 83 – Marjanovic 25, Dobric 16, Teodosic 13, Andjusic 12, Petrusev 8, Davidovac 5, Milosavljevic 2, Jovic 2, Avramovic 0.
Philippines 76 – Kouame 17, Heading 13, Sotto 10, Baltazar 10, Abarrientos 9, Tamayo 5, Navarro 4, Go 4, Belangel 2, Nieto 2.
Quarters: 22-16, 45-34, 67-62, 83-76.