Smart Gilas Pilipinas kept its cool amid dirty plays and home court calls as it eked out an emotional 79-72 victory Monday night over a rough Al Nasr of United Arab Emirates to go into the quarterfinals in the 21st Dubai Invitational with a lot of momentum at the Al Ahli Indoor Stadium here.
The Nationals made the right plays at the right time and the big shots at the crucial stretch of the game to nail their third straight win following an opening day loss to Al Jalaa of Syria.
The Filipinos, who played without Rabeh Al Hussaini (studies), Adlrech Ramos (respiratory) and Dylan Ababou (fractured nose), had to endure some dirty plays from Al Nasr and bum calls from the hometown referees.
In fact, skipper Chris Tiu ended up with busted lip and some bruises on his chest and legs while JV Casio’s face turned out a direct recipient of a wayward elbow from Khalal Msebah.
It didn’t help that the host team were the direct beneficiary of calls as it was awarded 27 free throws and making 19 of it while RP got only seven trips to the line making just five.
Thankfully, the Filipinos stayed focused and kept its composure as they hit the shots that mattered, highlighted by clutch triples by Tiu, Mac Baracael and Casio that kept Al Nasr at bay.
“I expected this tough game from the domestic team and I also felt we showed a great heart in this tournament in the very difficult moment,” said Smart Gilas’ Serbian coach Rajko Toroman. “We didn’t lose our mind, we were focused and we made some crucial three-point shots.
“And I think its very important for this young team this kind of game because we know domestic referees will push for the domestic team and I’m very satisfied,” he added.
The Filipinos are currently second in Group B behind Al Jalaa, which is unbeaten with a 3-0 (win-loss) slate, and ahead of Zain Jordan, which possesses a 2-1 record.
The Syrians, who beat the Jamal Sampson-less Filipinos, 90-76, Friday, and the Jordanians, bronze medalists in the 2009 FIBA-Asia Championships in Tianjin, China who lost to RP, 82-85, Sunday, play each other today (1 a.m. RP time) for the top seeding.
If Smart Gilas will end up as second seed, it will play the No. 3 seed, which could be Al Jazeera of Egypt or the national team of the United Arab Emirates, both carding 1-2 marks.
Elbowed and all, Casio still spewed 16 points he laced with four booming triples including one with 1.49 minutes to go that broke the 72-all deadlock and the hearts of Al Nasr as they couldn’t score the rest of the way.
Jamal Sampson, playing minimal minutes, bulldozed his way to 15 points, seven rebounds and two blocks while Mac Baracael finished with 15 points including a clutch triple in the stretch that kept the Filipinos in the game.
Tiu, who is already walking wounded as he is nursing a recurring left leg injury, ended up with 13 points he spiked with six assists, four steals and three boards.