TAIPEI – Smart Gilas-Pilipinas survived a couple of missed free throws down the stretch and the late surge by Iran to hack out a thrilling 77-75 win on Friday as it kept its championship bid alive in the 34th William Jones Cup basketball tournament at the TPEC gym.
The Nationals botched four free throws in the final 31 seconds – including three in a row - and then held their collective breath as veteran Mehdi Kamrani missed a potential game-winning three-pointer in Iran’s final play before finally celebrating the hard-earned win.
“Hindi dapat dikit, but we missed two open lay-ups, and four free throws,” said an obviously relieved Gilas coach Chot Reyes.
The victory created a three-way tie at the top at 5-1 among the Filipinos, the defending champion Iranians, and the US team - a 77-66 winner over Jordan earlier - with two playing days left in the tournament being held in honor of the late former Fiba secretary-general.
The Nationals, who lost 91-72 to Lebanon in their previous outing, take on the host team on Saturday at 7 p.m., before capping their campaign with a 5 p.m. game against the Americans on Sunday.
The team with the best record after the tournament will emerge champion.
Marcus Douthit was back to his dominant self with a team-high 22 points and 10 rebounds, while the Rain or Shine pair of Gabe Norwood and Jeff Chan added 17 and 12, respectively, for the Nationals, who dealt the two-time defending champions their first loss of the tournament.
The Nationals enjoyed lead of as much as 63-51 early in the fourth and were protecting an 86-81 edge with 31 seconds to go when they began missing their free throws.
Douthit flubbed a bonus gift shot, Ranidel de Ocampo bungled two, and Chan only had a split, 77-75, with seven seconds to go that opened the door for a possible game-winning shot by Iran.
But Kamrani muffed a desperation three-pointer that sealed the Philippines’ second win in three Jones Cup meetings with Iran since last year’s 73-59 victory in the preliminaries.
“Tapos na sana ng maaga, but it’s really different when you’re playing with the name of the country on your jersey. That’s something we have to learn and get used to,” said Reyes, who finally won over the Iranians after losing to the same team then bannered by Hamed Hahhadi and coached by Rajko Toroman, 75-69, in the first round of the 2007 Fiba-Asia Men’s Championship in Tokushima, Japan.
Held to just three in the first half, Samad Bahrami exploded for 23 points in the last two quarters, including six in a row as Iran made it a 76-75 game.
“Iran is a tough team. They never die, very physical, and warriors. But we showed the heart of our team and how far we can go,” said Douthit.
For the second straight game, PBA commissioner Chito Salud watched and supported the Nationals from the gallery section, joined by chairman Robert Non, vice-chairman Mon Segismundo, Talk `N Text Board member Patrick Gregorio, and PBA media bureau chief Willie Marcial.
Smart Gilas (77) – Douthit 22, Norwood 17, Chan 12, Mercado 8, David 8, Fonacier 6, De Ocampo 2, Tenorio 0, Villanueva 0, Thoss 0.
Iran (75) – Bahrami 26, Kardoust 16, Sahakian 12, Afagh 8, Kamrani 5, Aslani 4, Nabipour 4, Atashi 0, Hamed 0,
Quarterscores: 21-19; 33-33; 58-49; 77-75.