DESPITE chaotic preparations for Gilas – which included Andray Blatche’s withdrawal, June Mar Fajardo’s injury and limited practice time – Philippines stunned China 96-87 at the FIBA Asia Cup.
In the opening game in Group B, Terrence Romeo went nine-for-14 from the field and five-from-seven from beyond the arc to score 26 points.
The 25-year-old thrived under the extra responsibility and was part of a rounded team effort to beat the second favourites for the whole tournament in Lebanon.
Victory is a glorious triumph for Chot Reyes’ team, whose preparations going into the tournament were beset by issues both on and off the court.
What we saw against China, though, was a united Gilas.
They led 53-39 after dominating the first half, and went 68-52 in front before China rallied to lead 87-84 with 4:20 left in the match.
At that point, it would have been easy for Gilas to fold, with their difficult preparations for Lebanon a ready-made scapegoat.
But instead they produced a stunning 12-0 run to end the match, Romeo tying the game with a three-pointer, putting his team in front with a jump shot and then again hitting China with a sucker punch from three.
Christian Standhardinger – Blatche’s replacement as Gilas’ naturalised player in Lebanon – hit a jump shot to make it 94-87 with 53 seconds on the clock.
After Jayson Castro snared a defensive board off Li Gen’s missed three-point attempt, Matthew Wright scored a lay-up to put the gloss on a fine victory for a proud basketball nation.
Romeo’s 26 points caught the eye, while Castro had seven assists. For China, Hu Jinqiu had 13 points, seven rebounds and four blocks, with Guo Ailun scoring 18 points.
China made just 45.3 percent of their shots from the field, though, compared with an energised Gilas’ 58.2 percent – a rate better than even Australia (50.8 percent) managed on day one against Japan.
Philippines will now eye the prospect of finishing top of the group and advancing straight to the quarter-finals. Gilas are next in action when they meet Iraq on Friday.