Tue 28 September 2021

MIRACLE IN CLARK: Hoop gods answer Belangel prayer as PH slays South Korea

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It took an all-amateur lineup for the Philippine men’s national basketball team to end the eight-year Korean curse as Gilas Pilipinas stuns South Korea, 81-78, Wednesday in the 2021 FIBA Asia Cup qualifying tournament at the Angeles University Foundation Gym in Pampanga.

Pint-size college point guard SJ Belangel filled in the huge shoes of legendary point guard Jimmy Alapag as he scored on an off-balanced game winner from the right wing of the three-point arc with two seconds left.

Prior to his miraculous shot, Gilas clawed back from a 70-75 deficit by exploiting South Korea’s early penalty with free throw conversions from Justine Baltazar and Dwight Ramos, capped by a Belangel drive to regain the lead at 76-75.

Naturalized player Ange Kouame then converted on a follow-up and-one with twelve seconds left for a 78-75 lead, but he missed on his bonus free throw.

But the Koreans were unfazed. Reminiscent on how they broke the hearts of the Philippines in several past battles, they converted a three-pointer in clutch time, this time with a conversion from Lee Hyun-jung.

With 2.9 seconds remaining, inbounder Ramos passed to Belangel, who popped out and eked an off-balanced pump trey past the defense of the 6’6” power forward Lee Seoung-hyun.

That was not the first time Gilas rallied past a deficit in the game.

Down by as much as 17 in the first half, Gilas rallied in the tailend of the second quarter and the entirety of the third quarter with daring drives from point guards Belangel and RJ Abbarientos, as well as cool shooting from stretch center Kouame and top scorer Ramos.

However, the Koreans fought toe to toe anchored on the brute force of naturalized player Ricardo Ratliffe, who lorded in the paint as their gunners waned in the second half.

Ramos led the balanced Gilas attack with 16 points and five rebounds while Belangel added 13 points and 5 rebounds. Three other players—Kouame and debutantes Kai Sotto and Carl Tamayo—scored in double digits for the Philippines.

Ratliffe did a yeoman’s job for his team with24 points and 15 rebounds while sniper Lee Hyung-jung was the only other bright spot with 15 points and three triples.

This was the first Philippine win over South Korea since the 2013 Manila Fiba Asia Championship, where the team then bannered by legendary players Alapag, Marc Pingris, and Jayson Castro entered the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup with an 86-79 win.

The last game versus the Koreans was in the 2018 Jakarta Asian Games when Gilas, led by NBA Sixth Man of the Year Jordan Clarkson, lost, 82-91.

Gilas must win at least one of their next games in the Clark bubble on June 18 versus Indonesia and a rematch with South Korea on June 20 to advance directly to the 2021 Fiba Asia Cup in August.

(Photo from One Sports Facebook page)

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