A tough Saudi Arabian national basketball squad gave the Philippine home team plenty of troubles before bowing out, 66-78, Thursday night as the 2013 Fiba Asia Men’s Basketball Championship unfolded at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Philippine head coach Chot Reyes took his hats off to the Saudis for their gallant stand.
“I think the Saudis showed with their game tonight that they deserve to be in this tournament,” Reyes said in the post-game interview.
Staging the tournament for the first time in 40 years, the Philippines had been expected to quickly stamp its class on its unheralded rival, having being tagged by pundits as a strong contender for the title.
But opening day jitters appeared to have messed up the Filipinos’ game as the Saudis raced to a 16-14 lead in the first quarter.
The Filipinos grabbed the lead in the second quarter but could not pull away as they hanged on to a seven-point lead at halftime, 35-28.
The Philippines finally flashed its deadly form in the second half, racing to 66-50 lead.
But the Saudis were undaunted as they nailed three-straight three-pointers to slash the Filipinos’ advantage to just seven, 66-59.
June Mar Fajardo and Marcus Douthit ultimately quashed the Saudis’ hopes with back to back hits as the Filipinos finally breathed a sigh of relief.
LA Tenorio and Larry Fonacier led the Philippines in offense with 12 points apiece while Douthit collected 10 points and 11 rebounds.
Marc Pingris also played a key role in the Philippine victory by knocking in eight points and grabbing nine rebounds.
Aymam Almuwallad led the Saudis with 18 points, while Mohammed Almarwani chipped in 12 points and 12 rebounds.
The Philippines shot just 31 percent from three-point range and committed 14 turnovers, including eight in the first half.
The Philippines faces Jordan Friday while Saudi Arabia will battle opening day victor Chinese Taipei earlier in the day.
In earlier games, South Korea stunned defending champion China, 63-59. It was the Koreans’ second straight win over China as they also beat their toughest regional rival in the battle for the basketball gold, 79-68, in the last East Asian Games in Tianjin, China.
Qatar came from behind to shock Japan, 75-74. Former NBA player Jarvis Hayes led the Qataris with 20 points including five crucial points in the homestretch. The Japanese were ahead by double digits and led 61-53 entering the final quarter before the Qataris unleashed their ferocious run.
Chinese-Taipei, meanwhile, showed it is now a force to reckon with in Asian basketball, upsetting Jordan in closely-fought contest, 91-87.
In the first game of the championship’s opening day, Iran crushed Malaysia, 115-25, to underscore its billing as the team to beat in the Manila tournament.
The two-time Asian champions and 2008 Olympians quickly raced to a 42-3 lead and showed awesome form, speed, and shooting prowess much to the Malaysians’ embarrassment.
Hamed Hadadi collected 21 points and eight rebounds in only 13 minutes of play.