The Philippines had nothing to play for other than pride when it took on Senegal at the FIBA World Cup in Spain on Thursday. That certainly didn't impact Gilas Pilipinas' effort, however, as it defeated its African opponents 81-79 in an overtime thriller.
With Senegal already through to the knockout round and the Philippines already eliminated, this game didn't have major implications on the tournament. With that said, Gilas Pilipinas didn't want to go home empty handed, according to NBA Philippines:
Leaving Spain with a win wasn't the only motivating factor for the Philippines, however. Per Yahoo Philippines, Thursday's clash with Senegal marked the final international contest for 36-year-old Filipino guard Jimmy Alapag:
Things looked somewhat bleak for Gilas after one quarter of play as Senegal imposed its will. Guard Mouhammad Faye dropped 11 points for the African side in the opening frame, while the Philippines struggled to muster much of anything against Senegal's dominant interior defense.
As pointed out by The Philippine Star, Senegal's size advantage was blatantly obvious in the early going:
Minnesota Timberwolves center Gorgui Dieng was particularly imposing on the defensive end with a pair of blocks, but he made the biggest play of the first quarter on the offensive end.
Dieng was fouled on a rare three-point attempt with just a couple of seconds remaining in the quarter, and he made the Philippines pay by making all three of his freebies:
In the early stages of the second quarter, there was a scary moment as two players clashed heads and needed to leave the game. According to the Philippine Basketball Association of Sports5, Dieng and Filipino forward Ranidel de Ocampo collided violently:
Perhaps the Philippines drew inspiration from watching De Ocampo put his body on the line as Gilas proceeded to take full control of the game during the second quarter.
Since penetrating and scoring in the paint proved to be too difficult, the Philippines reversed course and started to dissect Senegal from beyond the arc.
Seemingly everyone got in on the act, including Brooklyn Nets big man Andray Blatche, who isn't particularly well known for his three-point shooting prowess:
The Filipino squad was far from done, though, as the barrage of threes continued throughout the quarter. Even the departing Alapag drained one from downtown for good measure:
Perhaps the biggest reason for the Philippines success in the second quarter was its willingness to share the basketball and find the open man. That is precisely what Filipino singer Martin Nievera hoped the team would do in lieu of ineffective isolation plays:
For as well as the Philippines played in the second, Senegal was equally out of sorts. At one point, Gilas reeled off 17 straight points:
By the time the quarter came to an end, the Philippines held a 13-point advantage at the break and had managed to allow a mere five points during the second frame:
According to Philippine Basketball Association player Chris Tiu, Senegal simply couldn't figure out how to crack the Philippines' zone defense:
After an incredibly miserable quarter, there was nowhere for Senegal to go but up at the start of the second half. Senegal couldn't hit any outside shots in the second quarter to keep the Philippines honest, but that changed in the third.
Senegal carried the play for the most part, and the momentum really seemed to swing when guard Xane D'Almeida hit a three with less than two minutes left in the quarter to pull within eight:
That was part of what would become a 9-0 run, which shrunk the Filipino lead to just four points:
Blatche stopped the bleeding by making one of two free throws in the closing seconds, but Senegal had successfully turned the tide and entered the final quarter down by just five points.
Gilas Pilipinas found itself in a familiar position Thursday needing one strong quarter to win. The Philippines had a few opportunities to win in Spain prior to the Senegal game, but it simply couldn't seal the deal.
After losing to Puerto Rico on Wednesday, Blatche expressed his dismay with the team's inability to finish, per Alder Almo of NBA Philippines.
"We keep getting ourselves in position to win and we can taste it. We just haven't gotten it yet. [...] They're pretty painful. But we keep fighting. It hurts. We come into the fourth quarter expecting a win."
Nursing a five-point lead, Gilas supporters were certainly hopeful that things would be different during the fourth quarter of the Philippines' final game.
The momentum shift certainly seemed to carry over to the fourth quarter as Senegal continued to chip away at the Filipino lead. With the Philippines playing sloppy, undisciplined basketball, Senegal cut the deficit to 58-57 with around four minutes left in the contest.
Tension amongst the Filipino faithful was palpable, and even reporters like Joey Villar of The Philippine Star were openly rooting for Gilas:
With Senegal attempting to battle back, Dieng went down for the second time in the game:
The Africans continued to battle, though, and they finally regained the lead with just over two minutes remaining as they took advantage of yet another Filipino turnover:
The Philippines quickly regained the lead, however, off an emphatic slam from center June Mar Fajardo. Blatche isn't exactly lauded for his hustle at the NBA level, but he proved his commitment to winning with the Filipino national team by fighting for a loose ball and scoring to increase the lead to three with just over a minute left:
Gilas could seemingly taste its first victory of the FIBA World Cup, but nothing comes easy. Senegal's size and rebounding ability would come in handy as it controlled the offensive glass and finally converted a three from forward Maurice Daly Ndour to tie the game at 64-64 with 33 seconds left:
The Philippines had a chance to win it with the final possession of regulation but couldn't convert, which resulted in the game going to overtime.
Based on the see-saw nature of the contest, such a conclusion was only fitting.
Senegal quickly took a three-point lead in the extra session, but Blatche cut the advantage to one. That was followed by some chippiness as emotional Filipino leader Alapag absorbed an aggressive foul while driving to the hoop:
Alapag would split his two attempts from the charity stripe, which meant that the game was once again knotted up at 67-67.
After trading a basketball apiece to make it 69-69, Gilas was dealt a major blow as Blatche fouled out after registering 18 points and 14 rebounds for the game:
With the contest tied at 71-71, De Ocampo was fouled and proceeded to make two clutch free throws to put the Philippines on top with just over a minute left. Fajardo then added two more free throws, which gave Gilas a four-point lead with 58 seconds left on the clock.
That was supplemented by another two free throws from Alapag in his final international game, and the picture became even clearer for the Philippines leading 77-71 with 45 seconds left. Senegal made it interesting by nailing a three ball, but Alapag answered with a free throw to make it 78-74 with 23 seconds remaining.
A missed three by Senegal with 11 seconds sealed its fate, and the Philippines finally found that elusive victory by persevering to win 81-79.
While it marks the end of the road for the Philippines at the 2014 FIBA World Cup, this win is a big one for the country's basketball program. Gilas defeated arguably the best basketball team in Africa and proved that it can compete on a high level internationally.
As for Senegal, the loss is certainly disconcerting, but it deserves a great deal of credit for bouncing back after an awful second quarter and forcing overtime with a clutch shot.
Senegal has a round of 16 matchup with host Spain looming, so it won't be long before Senegal joins the Philippines in heading home.
Even though neither of these teams is considered contenders on the international scene, they fought until the bitter end. Every player involved represented his nation to the best of his ability, and that is what makes competitions like the FIBA World Cup so great.
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