SMART Gilas-Pilipinas 2.0 suffered a heartbreaking loss to China, 71-68, as it kicked off its campaign in the Fiba Asia Cup on the wrong foot on Friday at the Ota gymnasium in Tokyo, Japan.
The Nationals lost grip of an eight-point lead in the final seven minutes as the Chinese posted the most telling run of the contest -- an 11-0 blast that denied the Filipinos what could have been a famous victory.
By the time China’s young 'B' team was through with its scoring binge, the Asian powers had already regained the upperhand, 67-64, with a little less than two minutes to go.
In all, the Nationals were held to just five points in the last seven minutes, putting to waste a big second-half fightback that saw them wipe out an 11-point second-quarter deficit and open a 64-56 lead with 6:32 to go.
China outscored Smart-Gilas, 15-4 over the final six minutes of the match to complete its come-from-behind victory.
Compounding the loss was the Nationals’ poor 6-of-35 shooting from three-point range and 14-of-24 attempts from the foul line.
“I thought we played really hard tonight,” said Philippine team coach Chot Reyes. “Obviously, we had our chances. Free throws, we missed them, and we lost.”
Jeff Chan, Gary David, and L.A. Tenorio all missed possible game-tying three-pointers in the endgame for the reigning Jones Cup champions.
“We had the lead, but we committed too many mistakes (in the stretch),” said Tenorio, the Jones Cup MVP. “We learned a lot in this game and hopefully, we can use that to bounce back.”
Ranidel de Ocampo led the Filipinos' charge with 11 points while Larry Fonacier and 6'11" naturalized Filipino Marcus Douthit added 10 points apiece.
The Nationals have less than 24 hours to recover from the sorry setback as they next face Fadi El Khatib and Lebanon in their second assignment in Group A of the tournament formerly known as the Stankovic Cup. The Lebanese won their debut match with a 120-51 rout of Macau earlier.
The last time the Philippines beat China came in the 2007 Fiba-Asia Championship For Men when the Filipinos hacked out a thrilling 78-76 win over the mainland's Team B in the battle for ninth place.
China paraded a tall but inexperienced roster this time, with only 19-year-old Guo Ailun the only remaining player from the Chinese squad that finished 12th in the London Games last month. Guo led the team with 18 points.
Wang Zhelin was one of three 7-footers unveiled by the Asian power, and the former youth standout who steered China to the gold in the recent Fiba-Asia U18 championship in Ulan Bator, Mongolia responded by grabbing 14 rebounds and defending Gilas' naturalized player Marcus Douthit.
CHINA 71 - Ailun Guo 18, Tailong Zhao 11, Ran Sui 7, Ke Wu 7, Jiangpeng Duan 6, Zhelin Wang 6, Zhe Sun 6, Yan Cao 4, Chandeng Yu 3, Dayu Zhang 3, Zirui Wang 0, Fei Cao 0
SMART GILAS 68 - De Ocampo 11, Fonacier 10, Douthit 10, Norwood 9, Dillinger 8, Tenorio 8, David 7, Chan 5, Villanueva 0, Thoss 0, Reyes 0, Rosser 0
Quarterscores: 15-18, 33-40, 56-54, 68-71