AN undermanned Iran side again broke the hearts of a nation on Monday night, dealing Team Pilipinas a 78-70 defeat that dampened the hosts' bid in the Fiba Basketball World Cup Asian qualifiers at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Mohammad Jamshidi stepped up in the absence of stars Hamed Haddadi and Samad Nikkhah Bahrami, compiling 26 points, seven assists and four rebounds in the same arena where Iran beat the Philippines in the final of the 2013 Fiba Asia Championship.
This time, the Iranians left the Philippines winless in the fifth window of the qualifiers and in danger of missing the 2019 Fiba World Cup in China altogether.
Together with the shock loss to Kazakhstan on Friday, the national team slipped to fourth place in Group F with a 5-5 (win-loss) record, behind Australia (9-1), Iran (7-3) and Japan (6-4) which handily beat the Kazakhs at home.
Jayson Castro made an impressive return to the national team after serving a three-game suspension for his role in the July brawl against Australia, leading the home stand with 19 points, five rebounds and two assists.
He was the single biggest reason why the Philippines threatened to break away in the final period, putting up a 60-52 lead at the 8:23-minute mark only to see Team Melli finish the game on a 26-10 rampage.
Castro's drive at the 1:04 mark may not have found the bottom of the net, but June Mar Fajardo was there to clean up his miss that gave Team Pilipinas a 70-69 lead.
It turned out to be the hosts' last hurrah.
Behnam Yakhchali drilled a clutch jumper over Scottie Thompson with 42.3 seconds left that put his side up for good, 71-70, as the hosts crumbled in a maze of errors and bad decisions in the endgame.
Yakhchali uncorked 21 points, seven rebounds, and four assists to back up Jamshidi while Meisam Mirzaei had 11 points, eight boards, two steals, and two blocks for Team Melli, which was also without Arsalan Kazemi, and Sajjad Mashayekhi.
Standhardinger poured 17 points, eight rebounds, and two assists for the Philippines while Marcio Lassiter had nine of his 11 points in the first quarter before being stymied in the second half and fouling out with 54.3 seconds remaining.
Fajardo had eight and four in the losing cause.
The road to the World Cup truly gets much harder for the Philippines at this point as it needs no less than a sweep of its games in the sixth window, both away games against Kazakhstan and Qatar.
If Gilas stay at fourth place in Group F at the end of the Asian qualifiers, it must also hope that China - which is guaranteed a World Cup spot as host - also enter the top three in Group E to secure a ticket to the quadrennial showpiece.
IRAN 78 - Jamshidijafarabadi 26, Yakhchalidehkordi 21, Mirzaeitalarposhti 11, Arghavan 8, Hassanzadeh 7, Mozafarivanani 3, Hosseizadeh 2, Davoudichegani 0, Rezaeifar 0, Torabi 0, Sedighi 0.
PHILIPPINES 70 - Castro William 19, Standhardinger 17, Lassiter 12, Fajardo 8, Wright 4, Rosario 3, Belga 3, Aguilar 2, Santos 2, Norwood 0, Thompson 0, Tenorio 0.
Quarters: 19-20, 35-39, 50-54, 78-70.