SJ Belangel beat the buzzer with a game-winning three-pointer to lift a young Gilas Pilipinas squad over South Korea, 81-78, for an inspired start in the third and final window of the 2021 FIBA Asia Cup qualifiers Wednesday at the AUF Sports and Cultural Center in Angeles, Pampanga.
Belangel hit the off-balanced trey off a timeout with two seconds remaining to help the Filipinos complete their comeback from 17 down against the Koreans in an instant classic. Gilas secured its ticket to the continental showpiece after improving to an unblemished 4-0 in Group A. This is also the men's national team's first win over the Koreans since beating them in the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship in Manila to seal a ticket to the 2014 FIBA World Cup.
"It was exciting. I mean, you know, it's a shame that we didn't have 20,000 people in the MOA Arena watching that. But what we did have, we had a country behind us. We could feel how much the country wanted something positive, and I think we were all extremely proud to be able to bring them something surprising," head coach Tab Baldwin remarked.
"It's a great moment for Filipino basketball."
But the young Nationals almost lost grip of the moment late in the fourth quarter, where naturalized big man Ra Guna and Jeon Seonghyen sparked a 9-0 run to turn a 70-66 Gilas lead into a 75-70 advantage for the Koreans with 2:25 remaining.
Gilas stuck to its guns and slowly cut into the lead with four straight free throws before a steady Belangel found a wide-open lane to the hoop to put Gilas back on top at 76-75 with 48 seconds remaining.
Kouame later had an opportunity to seal the deal for the Filipinos after drawing a foul on a big putback with 10 seconds remaining, but he missed the ensuing free throw, paving the way for a big transition 3 from Lee Hyunjung to tie the game with two seconds remaining.
This set the stage for the clutch dagger from Belangel, who came up with the biggest shot of his young career to salvage a broken set play off a timeout.
Belangel finished with 13 points on 5-for-9 shooting to go with five rebounds and two assists for Gilas.
Ramos carried the offense for Gilas with 16 points to go with five rebounds, two steals and a block. Ange Kouame impressed in his first game as the program's newest naturalized center by collecting 12 points on 3-for-5 shooting from downtown, six rebounds, and one block.
Kai Sotto was solid in his men's debut as well, tallying 11 markers, seven boards, two assists, a steal and a block off the bench, while Carl Tamayo was the fifth player to breach double-figures with 10 points in just 10 minutes.
"That game was just... it was crazy," Ramos said. "Our team made a lot of plays. A lot of people stepped up there. It was just a complete team effort there. I was so surprised. It's just one of the craziest games I've ever played in, really."
Things didn't look good in the first half for Gilas, who stared at a 33-16 hole early in the second quarter after a sluggish offense lagged behind a more cohesive execution by the Koreans.
But Gilas chipped away behind Ramos and RJ Abarrientos before pulling within eight, 44-36, after Kouame hit a triple right before the buzzer at halftime. The young Nationals then turned the tables in the third quarter behind Kouame, Ramos and Sotto, who hit a basket with 3:42 left in the frame to finally put the Filipinos ahead.
The Philippines shot 43.8 percent from the field and made up for a bad start in the first two quarters by making 48 percent of their shots in the second half.
South Korea, which shot a blistering 54.3 percent from the field in the first half, went cold in the final two quarters of play and hit just 13-of-39 shots (33.3 percent).
Ra led the Koreans with 24 points and 15 boards, while Lee Hyungjung added 15 points on 3-for-9 shooting from downtown to go with four rebounds and two dimes.
Gilas can make it two straight in the third window with a win over Indonesia on Friday before figuring in a rematch against South Korea on Sunday.
PHILIPPINES 81 -- Ramos 16, Belangel 13, Kouame 12, Sotto 11, Tamayo 10, Abarrientos 6, Baltazar 6, Go 4, Nieto 3, Navarro 0, Tungcab 0.
KOREA 78 -- Ra 24, Lee HJ 15, Lee SH 9, Jeon 9, Kang 7, Moon 6, Yang 4, Kim 2, Lee DS 2, Byeon 0.
Quarters: 12-21, 36-44, 56-57, 81-78