QATAR gave the Philippines a most delightful present four months before Christmas, pulling the rug from under Chinese-Taipei, 71-68, on Wednesday to give Gilas Pilipinas a free ride to the top of Group E at the end of the preliminaries of the Fiba-Asia championships.
The Qataris, pounded by Gilas, 70-80, the night before, went on a crucial 10-0 run early in the fourth quarter then held off a late Taipei fightback to secure a win that came like an answered prayer for home fans who cheered heartily for the Middle East team at the Mall of Asia Arena.
"I think I can run for president of the Philippines right now, I might get a few votes," said Qatar coach Tom Wisman.
Qatar's win toppled Taipei from the top of the Group E rankings, giving Gilas the opportunity to secure the No. 1 seeding - as well as a considerably lighter path in the knockout rounds beginning on Friday - with a win over hapless Hong Kong later in the day.
A Gilas win over Hong Kong would create a three-way logjam at the top with Qatar and Taipei and give the host team the No. 1 seeding when the quotient system comes into play.
As things stand now, Gilas can look forward to meeting the No. 4 seed from Group F, Kazakhstan, in the knockout quarterfinals and nemesis Korea in the semifinals in its bid to secure one of three places to next year's world championships in Spain.
Qatar needed to win by at least 16 points to get the top ranking and, failing to do that, by seven or less to avoid a quarterfinal face-off against defending champion China.
It did just that and will likely draw Korea in the semifinals as the No. 3 seed in Group E.
After losing for the first time in six games, Taipei is set to end up as the No. 2 seed in the bracket and is in line to meet mortal enemy China in the quarterfinals.
Veteran Yasseen Musa had 20 points and 19 rebounds, presiding over the game-turning run that turned a 56-54 lead into a 66-54 advantage for Qatar with four minutes left to play.
Staring at a 56-68 deficit, the Taiwanese scored 12 unanswered points capped by a Tien Lei lay-up to knot the count at 68-68, with 1:05.
But Daoud Mosa Daoud, booed by the home crowd in the match against Gilas, drew cheers from a few Filipino fans at the venue by scoring a jumper with 43.5 seconds remaining to wrest the lead back for Qatar.
After an empty possession for Chinese Taipei, Jarvis Hayes split his two free throws for a 71-68 lead. Tseng Wen-Ting then missed a potential game-tying three-pointer as time expired.
Wisman, though, was still satisfied with the win.
“It was a nice win for us against a team that played well in the tournament. They showed that when we were up by 12 points and then they came back,” Wisman said.
“We came here with the mindset that we have to win by 16 points. We got to 12 but didn’t have gas to get that done. But other than that, we wanted to win the game,” he added.
Quincy Davis had a game-high 23 points but most of Taiwan's top players failed to fire, including Lin Chih-chieh who was held scoreless in the game.
Qatar (71) – Musa 20, Hayes 13, Daoud 10, Saeed 8, Mohamed 7, Ali 7, Abdi 4, Elhadary 2, Saleem 0, Mohammed 0.
Chinese Taipei (68) – Davis 23, Chen 13, Yang 7, Tien 6, Lu 6, Lee 5, Creighton 5, Tseng 3, Chou 0, Tsai 0, Lin 0.
Quarterscores: 15-15; 29-28; 49-48; 71-68.