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MANILA, Philippines – Jordan Clarkson claimed “prayers will be answered” on the eve of Gilas Pilipinas’ upset bid against Italy in the FIBA World Cup.
But not even the basketball gods could shift the balance of power between the two teams as the world No. 10 Azzurri notched a 90-83 win to eliminate the Filipinos in Group A at the Araneta Coliseum on Tuesday, August 29.
Needing to win at least 12 points to advance to the second round, the Philippines instead ended up on the wrong end of a cunning display of precision and flair by Italy to finish at the bottom of Group A with a 0-3 record.
The loss marked the Filipinos’ eighth straight World Cup defeat overall as they got relegated to the classification phase, where they will face the two bottom teams from Group B.
Clarkson showed the way anew for the Philippines with 23 points, 7 rebounds, and 6 assists, but his efforts went down the drain against a European powerhouse that has never lost to an Asian team in the World Cup.
Italy hiked its all-time World Cup record against Asian squads to 12-0 and qualified for the second round together with unbeaten Dominican Republic (3-0) after winding up at second place in Group A with a 2-1 slate.
Still, the defeat was not as horrendous as the last time the two teams crossed paths when the Italians gave the Filipinos a 46-point beating in the last World Cup in China.
Down by as many as 18 points in the fourth quarter, 62-80, Gilas Pilipinas rode on a 21-10 run powered by Clarkson, Roger Pogoy, and Kiefer Ravena to get within 83-90 before time ran out.
“They still showed up and gave it their all against a top 10 team in the world. Could not ask for more. We just came up short. But we continue to fight and that is all we can do,” said Philippines head coach Chot Reyes.
Simone Fontecchio got the last laugh over his Utah Jazz teammate Clarkson as he starred for the Azzurri with 18 points and 6 rebounds, taking charge in a big second period that proved to be the turning point.
Gilas Pilipinas still held on to a 23-20 edge after June Mar Fajardo beat the first-quarter buzzer before Fontecchio hit his stride and scattered 10 points in the second frame to propel Italy to a 48-39 halftime cushion.
Marco Spissu backstopped Fontecchio with 13 points, 9 assists, and 2 steals, while Giampalo Ricci fired 14 points spiked by four triples for the Italians, who finally found their mark from beyond the arc.
Italy made just 12 three-pointers in 60 attempts (20%) in the first two games combined but sank 17 treys on a 41.5% clip against the Filipinos.
The Italians also drew a solid outing from Alessandro Pajola, who scored 9 of his 11 points in the third quarter, including the buzzer-beating triple that stretched their lead to 73-60.
With the loss, the Philippines needs all other five Asian squads to also miss the second round to have a shot at the automatic Olympic berth as only the top-ranked Asian team will secure a slot in the 2024 Paris Games.
Dwight Ramos posted 14 points, 3 assists, and 2 steals in the loss, Roger Pogoy drained three treys for 9 points, while Ravena, AJ Edu, and Rhenz Abando all finished with 8 points.
Still searching for its first World Cup win since 2014, the Philippines starts its classification campaign on Thursday, August 31.
Italy 90 – Fontecchio 18, Ricci 14, Spissu 13, Tonut 13, Pajola 11, Melli 10, Polonara 6, Datome 5, Severini 0.
Philippines 83 – Clarkson 23, Ramos 14, Pogoy 9, Abando 8, Edu 8, Ravena 8, Malonzo 7, Fajardo 4, Sotto 2, Aguilar 0, Perez 0, Thompson 0.
Quarters: 20-23, 48-39, 73-60, 90-83.