Gilas Pilipinas warded off a strong challenge by Japan en route to a 77-71 victory on Friday night at the Komazawa Olympic Park in Tokyo at the start of the 2019 FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers.
Jayson Castro led the Philippines with 20 points, including a dagger three-pointer that gave Gilas a 75-69 lead, halting a furious Japanese rally, with 1:16 left. The veteran Gilas point guard also finished with seven rebounds and six assists.
Andray Blatche added 13 markers, 12 boards, and 3 blocks as Gilas Pilipinas nailed its first win in the newly reformatted home-and-away Asian qualifiers for the 2019 FIBA World Cup. Matthew Wright added 12 points while Gabe Norwood chipped in 10 points, 7 rebounds and 4 dimes.
The Filipinos stunned the Japanese with a 14-0 run in the first quarter, giving Gilas a 24-10 lead.
Buoyed by their home fans, the Japanese fought hard, managing to trim the deficit to 9 points, 37-28, at the half.
Japan grabbed the lead in the third quarter, 40-37, following a vicious 12-0 blitz, taking advantage of Gilas’ erratic plays.
But the Filipinos silenced the crowd with a run of their own as Blatche’s buzzer-beating triple gave Gilas a 59-55 cushion heading into the final period.
Gilas padded the lead to 70-60 with less than four minutes. But the Japanese kept fighting back, scoring six straight points to cut Gilas’ lead to four, 70-66, to the delight of the home fans.
Castro, however, silenced the crowd with a clutch three-pointer. RR Pogoy then sealed the win with a breakaway layup.
The Filipinos will head back home to Manila on Saturday to prepare for their home game against Chinese Taipei on Monday in the continuation of the qualifiers.
Gilas Pilipinas 77: Castro 20, Blatche 13, Wright 12, Norwood 10, Fajardo 6, Abueva 5, Aguilar 5, Pogoy 5, Ravena 1, Alas 0, Rosario 0
Japan 71: Hiejima 20, Brown 10, Tanaka 10, Togashi 8, Baba 7, Harimoto 7, Shinoyama 4, Takeuchi 3, Ota 2
Quarter scores: 18-10, 37-28, 63-55, 77-71