WAEL Arakji reminded everyone why he's the Fiba Asia Cup MVP, nailing the final seven points as Lebanon frustrated Gilas Pilipinas, 85-81, on Friday in the 2023 Fiba World Cup Asian qualifiers at Nouhad Nawfal Sports Complex in Zouk Mikael.
The shifty guard hit the go-ahead free throws off a Scottie Thompson foul with 57.3 seconds left before recovering the ball after a Kai Sotto block and drilling the dagger three from the left corner with 16.3 ticks left to make it an 83-78 affair.
[See Clarkson highlights 18-point first half with trey at the buzzer]
The hero of Lebanon's surprise runner-up finish at the last Fiba Asia Cup led the Cedars with 24 points on 10-of-11 shooting from the free throw line, including the last pair with 5.3 seconds much to the delight of the home crowd.
Lebanon's tough home stand spoiled the Fiba World Cup qualifiers debut of Jordan Clarkson who led the Philippines with 27 points, seven assists, and six rebounds as the naturalized player for Gilas.
Dwight Ramos also had a big game for Gilas with 18 points, 10 boards, six steals, and two assists. Japeth Aguilar had 11 points and six rebounds off the bench, but missed the potential go-ahead three in the final minute.
Kai Sotto corralled 10 points, eight rebounds, and two blocks as Gilas won the rebounding battle, 48 to 36, but committed 21 turnovers against Lebanon's nine.
Nine of those miscues came in the crucial second quarter which doused the Filipinos' hot start and allowed Lebanon to take the lead and seize control of the game heading into the second half.
The Philippines actually held a 75-71 lead after Kiefer Ravena's split from the line with 5:49 to play, but the Cedars were just too relentless on the offensive board to give themselves 13 second-chance points and preserve the back-and-forth exchange before Arakji took over down the stretch.
Gilas' defeat dropped it to a 2-3 card in Group E and it will look to vent its ire on Saudi Arabia on Monday at Mall of Asia Arena.
Amir Saoud contributed 17 points on 3-of-9 clip from distance while Ali Haidar bullied his way to 10 points, nine rebounds, and four assists for the Cedars, who improved to a 4-1 record.
LEBANON 85 - Arakji 24, Saoud 17, Haidar 10, Gyokchan 9, Zeinoun 7, Arledge 6, Chamoun 3, Mansour 3, Ezzedine 3, Mezher 3.
PHILIPPINES 81 - Clarkson 27, Ramos 18, Aguilar 11, Sotto 10, Thompson 4, Newsome 3, K. Ravena 3, Malonzo 3, T. Ravena 2, Tamayo 0, Parks 0, Oftana 0.
Quarters: 22-25, 49-47, 68-63, 85-81.