TAIPEI - Smart Gilas-Pilipinas survived a partisan crowd and a gutsy Chinese-Taipei-A stand as it pulled off a 76-72 win Saturday night to move on the cusp of regaining the Jones Cup basketball title at the TPEC gym in Taipei.
L.A. Tenorio, who, at 5-foot-8 is the smallest man on the floor, played huge for the Nationals, hitting all of his 11 points in the payoff period including three successive three-pointers that gave Gilas enough cushion to withstand a late Taiwanese rally.
“That’s why he is in this team. There’s a reason for him being here,” said coach Chot Reyes of the heady playmaker from Alaska. “We’ve had a good tournament so far, and tomorrow (Sunday), we need to come out hard to make it a great tournament.”
The Nationals, playing together in the international stage for the first time, are now alone on top with a 6-1 record. They need to win over the U.S. on the final day of the tournament Sunday to win the 34th edition of the meet held in honor of the late Fiba secretary-general.
The Philippines is a two-time winner of the annual cagefest, but hadn’t won the title since coach Tim Cone and his Centennial team captured the crown in 1998.
A loss would likely deny the Nationals of the championship since a +5 quotient according to Reyes, may not be good enough to put them in contention in case a triple tie ensue.
Defending champion Iran earlier lost to South Korea, 73-82, and the U.S. bowed against Lebanon, 67-70, creating a triple way tie for second at 5-2 among the Iranians, Americans, and the Koreans.
A four-way tie at 6-2 is possible in the event Iran beats Jordan, the US defeats the Philippines, and Korea turns back Chinese-Taipei.
Tenorio’s scoring binge gave the Nationals a 69-60 lead midway in the fourth period, before Gilas’ guns became silent in the next three minutes that allowed the Taiwanese to regroup and threaten.
The host came to within 69-68 at the 2:39 mark on a split by Tsung Hsien-chang from the charity line.
Ranidel De Ocampo then broke the Nationals’ silence by hitting a lay-up and Tenorio nailed a tear drop to give Gilas a 73-68 lead.
Gary David later hit a dagger three-pointer in the final 40 seconds as the Nationals took a 76-70 edge.
Jeff Chan topscored for the Nationals with 14 points, including three triples in the first half, while Marcus Douthit also had 14 and 11 rebounds.