Koreans outgun Douthit-less Gilas, enter Asian Games semifinals

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South Korea paraded a platoon of sharpshooters led by an American-Korean senior citizen as it outlasted Gilas Pilipinas in a showdown from the arc and carved out a 97-95 victory to claim the first slot in the semifinal round of the Asian Games basketball competitions yesterday.

Only a handful of Koreans who thought tickets were sold out were on hand to watch the game, outnumbered by a horde of Filipino fans who cheered Gilas Pilipinas from all parts of the gym before the shouting died down and tears dropped in the last seconds of play.

The loss gave the Philippines, touted to be the first to advance to the quarterfinal, a 0-2 record, but remained hopeful to advance as Kazakhstan downed Qatar, 65-57. (Related story on Page 21)

The Filipinos, playing minus suspended Marcus Douthit, abandoned the low post and matched the sharp shooting Koreans in a duel from three-point territory and, ironically, 37-year-old Jimmy Alapag and 38-year-old Moon Taejong, presided over the blaze of shots in a fast-scoring game.

Moon, born of a Korean father and an American mother, matched his age with second-best career high of 38 points, while Alapag had 25 points, backed up by the 20 of LA Tenorio, 16 of Chan, 12 of JunMar Fajardo and 11 of Ranidel de Ocampo.

The Filipinos led 78-71 in the last 6:28 of the game before the Koreans gnawed at the lead to knot the count at 82. The game leveled again at 86 and 88 on triples from both sides before 6-4 Yang Heejong fired Korea’s last two triples to put the game away at 93-89 with time down to 59 seconds.

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After De Ocampo missed a game-tying triple with 14.5 seconds left, Moon went to the line to score two gift shots off a foul by Tenorio. Still, the Filipinos made it close as Tenorio fished a foul on a three-point try and made all three to cut the deficit to 92- 95. A desperation foul with barely 5.5 seconds left gave the Koreans the game, 97-92.

Tenorio heaved the ball from near the free throw line for a waste basket shot that dropped in for the final score.

“I am very proud of my boys who faced a difficult challenge to beat Korea on home court. We fought to the very end and unfortunately came out short,” said national coach Chot Reyes during the post-game conference.

“We would like to apologize to our people (for the loss). There were so many expectations but you know, sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. This time we lost,” he added.

It was a virtual shootout between two teams which do not have legitimate centers. The Philippines had Douthit on the sidelines serving out a one-game suspension for his lackadaisical performance in the game against Qatar while the Koreans have tall but inexperienced centers.

“Our centers have to learn a lot. That’s going to be our focus after the Games,” said Korean coach Yoo Jaehak.

With lots of gunners from both sides, both teams carried the duel to outside rainbow, making the game the highest scoring so far in the tournament.

Moon did much of the damage in the last three quarters when the Koreans continued to trail the Filipinos until the last two minutes of the game.

Alapag opened the second quarter with a triple to expand the lead to 22-18 and canned in four straight treys in the last four minutes to give the Philippines a 51-40 advantage.

But the Koreans were on the counterattack everytime, matching the Filipinos triple for triple, many of them off the bench when Reyes rested Alapag.

The Philippines had its biggest lead at 65-49 halfway through the third quarter but Yang Heejong kept the Koreans in the game with outside shots of his own.

With the Filipinos misfiring in a three-minute span before the close of the third, the Koreans erupted with a 22-5 run that cut the Philippine lead to 72-71 going to the payoff period.

“We got the points from outside shooting but you have to live and die with it. If you get the shots, you win, if you don’t you lose,” Reyes said.

“Moon (6-6-) was making shots with all the defense put up against him but there’s a big difference between him and his guard Alapag (5-7) and it’s not difficult for him to take the shots,” he added.

Moon inflicted the biggest damage in the last five minutes of play when he shot two triples to tie the count at 82-all and 88-all.

“Our coach had trust in us and he kept telling me to try hard for those shots when the Philippines was leading with a big margin,” said Moon.

“Moon was taking the shots and he helped us a lot in defense,” said Yoo.

Meanwhile, the Gilas coach drew wild fire of criticisms on social media for suspending Douthit for disciplinary reason in their crucial game against South Korea – a decision that many thought backfired as the Nationals agonized at endgame with the visibly spent Filipino big man JunMar Fajardo carrying the burden while their naturalized reinforcement was cooling his heels on the bench.

There were posts that questioned Reyes’ decision to suspend Douthit particularly in a short, cutthroat international tournament like the Asian Games.

Suspensions on players blamed for lackluster performance could hold through in long-drawn tournaments, but never in a game-to-game format like the Asian Games, they said

It was Busan all over again with the Koreans trailing by 16 points at one stage, then methodically coming back and snatching the initiative and the victory.

And one of those who suffered in silence at the bench was assistant coach Jong Uichico who called the shots for Team Phl in Busan.

Reyes drew flak practically on all forums in social media following back-to-back losses to Qatar and Korea.

The netizens didn’t go easy on Reyes even as he took responsibility for the loss then offered an apology to the Filipino people.

Reyes was particularly pilloried by Filipino netizens for keeping Douthit on the bench as a punitive action for his alleged so-so performance against Qatar.

One netizen said it all: “When in doubt, hit it.”

By Gerry Carpio (The Philippine Star)

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