Gilas Pilipinas started its era with its young crew in style, shocking South Korea’s tested unit with an 81-78 nail-biter in the FIBA Asia Cup qualifiers at the AUF Gym in Angeles, Pampanga Wednesday night.
Samjosef Belangel underscored the grit and guts shown by the Gilas rookies, draining a tough three-pointer off two defenders at the buzzer as Team Phl scored a first win over the touted Koreans in their last six face-offs.
Ange Kouame, Kai Sotto, Carl Vincent Tamayo and Rhon Jhay Abarrientos also dished out sterling efforts in their debuts as Gilas seniors, helping the team sustain a perfect run in Pool A play in the continental qualifiers.
Dwight Ramos top scored with 16 points, with Belangel, Kouame, Sotto and Tamayo also making double-digit outputs as the Nationals virtually clinched a spot in the Asia Cup proper with a fourth straight win in the qualifiers.
The game looked headed for overtime after Kouame muffed a potential game-winning free throw then Hyungjung Lee rifled in a booming trey in front of the Gilas bench to tie the count at 78 with two seconds left to play.
But Belangel found a way to break the deadlock on a twisting heave from afar off two defenders, and the Nationals went on to duplicate their stirring conquest of the Koreans in the FIBA Asia Cup semifinals in 2013 at the MOA Arena.
The shot went in before the clock ticked 00:00, and the Gilas bench erupted to a frenzied celebration.