SEVLLE, SPAIN - June Mar Fajardo stepped out of the shadows of NBA star Andray Blatche on Thursday night, coming through in overtime as Gilas Pilipinas ended its Fiba World Cup jinx with an 81-79 victory over Senegal.
The 6-10 Fajardo came up with the basket and two free throws that pumped life back into Gilas after the Filipinos found themselves trailing, 69-71, with 1:15 to go and, worse, had Blatche sitting on the bench after committing his fifth and final foul.
Jimmy Alapag then put in the finishing touches for Gilas, hitting five free throws in the final 45 seconds against a stunned Senegalese as Gilas put away the Philippines' first win in this quadrennial event since the 1974 world championships in Puerto Rico.
"We showed we belonged, we showed we could compete, and now we showed that we could win," said Gilas coach Chot Reyes, who led a parade of honor around the Centro Deportivo San Pablo as supporters went wild with chants of 'Gilas, Gilas.'
"This is really Gilas basketball at its finest."
The win ended a disappointing run of heartbreaks for Gilas, which lost its first four games by an average of six points and looked ominously headed to another collapse after they wasted a 17-point lead and found themselves without the lead - and Blatche - in overtime.
The Filipinos also wasted a golden chance to win it outright in regulation when Blatche made a mid-range jumper and LA Tenorio fired a runner that was a tad too long at the buzzer.
"All our kababayans around the world deserve this win," said Alapag, the smallest man on this Gilas team who ended up sharing scoring honors with Blatche after finishing with 18 points.
However, it was Fajardo, until Thursday a mere back-up to Blatche, who proved the man of the hour for the Philippines as he added 15 points, grabbed nine rebounds, and had two issues in 31 minutes - the longest he has played in a game in the tournament.
Gabe Norwood added seven points, Paul Lee six and Tenorio five for Gilas, which finished Group B of this 24-nation conclave with a 1-4 record, a notch behind 2-3 Senegal.
Puerto Rico, at 1-3, is set to play Croatia in its final game later in the day.
The Filipinos made the game's most decisive move in the second half, opening a 17-point lead at 41-24 behind a 25-2 run that featured a barrage of four successive three-pointers and a zone defense that held Senegal to a single basket for almost a six-minute stretch.
That lead, however, was gone by the time the game entered the final 2:30 minutes, as Filipino fans in the stands of the Centro Deportivo San Pablo feared another collapse similar to heartbreaking losses at the hans of Croatia, Argentina and Puerto Rico.