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Depleted Gilas Pilipinas survives late Qatar uprising, completes group prelims sweep

By Patrick Sutare

MANILA–Gilas Pilipinas capped the first round of the 2017 FIBA Asia Cup with a squeaker over win-starved Qatar, 80-74, sweeping its group at 3-0 on Sunday night in Beirut, Lebanon.

Although already assured of a spot in the quarterfinals even before the game’s opening tip, the Filipinos still were made to sweat by their reeling antagonists, almost putting a once 20-point edge to waste with a near meltdown in the deciding frame.

The distance once stood at 49-29 for Gilas early in the third period before a gritty assault was unleashed by Qatar that closed them into within five, 75-70, approaching the affair’s twilight zone.

But the Philippines held its ground, providing the all needed finishing kick to stave off the impending collapse – this despite the team being banged up.

Blue-collar workers Christian Standhardinger and Calvin Abueva were both missed as the former suffered a minor shoulder injury that sidelined him the whole game while the latter sustaining a suspected achilles hit after a slip sometime in the second period.

The loss, meanwhile, denied Qatar a crack on a single win in the said stage.

The cellar-dwelling squad actually had nothing to lose as well coming into the tiff, yielding to China and Iraq respectively that officially eliminated them from further contention in the continental meet.

Matthew Wright started the scoring spree for the Philippines, detonating for 11 early points to steer the team to a commanding 25-16 lead after the first 10 minutes of play before coming through the clutch to salvage the win, much to the delight of a significant number of Filipino fans who packed the venue of the match.

The deadshot guard buried a booming trey from the right corner with less than two minutes to go to give Gilas an eight-point breathing room, 78-70, which they held on for good. He finished with 25 points, hitting seven triples on 12 tries.

Taking turns with Wright in the scoring attack during the first half was Carl Bryan Cruz who chalked up double figures with 10 as they led Qatar, 41-27, at the break. The stretch forward would finish with 13 markers built around three makes from the rainbow country and a couple of baskets from the shaded lane.

Terrence Romeo chipped in 10 points, so as Gabe Norwood.

The 32-year veteran completed his all-around effort with seven boards, five assists and two blocks.

Qatar was led by Mansour Ed Hadary who accounted for 23 points and six assists. Mahamed Saad posted a double-double of 18 points and 11 rebounds in a losing effort.

Gilas will face the winner of the South Korea-Japan knockout joust in the quarterfinal.

Follow him on Twitter: @patricksutare