PHNOM PENH—Gilas Pilipinas completed its mission of winning back the men’s basketball title at the 32nd Southeast Asian Games as Team Philippines surpassed by four its gold medal haul from last year’s edition despite looking to finish fifth in Cambodia’s first-time hosting of the regional multi-sport competition.
Head coach Chot Reyes and his wards proved the rout they absorbed at the hands of the heavily American-reinforced host team at the start of the basketball competitions was a fluke by sailing to an 80-69 victory in Tuesday night’s final at the Elephant Hall 2 court inside Morodok Techno Park.
“We did it, we did it and I don’t know if there’s anything left to say,” a profusely sweating Reyes told reporters after the customary handshake between opposing coaches. “I know a lot of people doubted this team [Gilas] the first time we lost to this team.”
“After we lost [the first time], I said this was the lost that we could afford and I thought we needed that loss actually,” he said. “So we just got our focus and here we are. The players did a hell of a job.”
Reyes added: “We held this team with five Americans, five, six or seven imports to just below 70 points. It’s a great defense in the end.”
“Win or lose, this was going to be my last SEA Games, I promised I’ll never coach in the SEA Games anymore,” Reyes said. “At least, I will go out with a gold medal.”
Justin Brownlee took charge with 23 points on 8 of 16 shooting with seven rebounds and four assists in the match that hardly showed the toughness and accuracy Cambodia showed in clobbering the Filipinos, 79-68, last week.
Gilas’s victory came after arnis and freestyle of wrestling delivered golden victories that raised the country’s total to 57 gold medals by 8 p.m. (Cambodia time), four more than the country’s harvest in Vietnam last year.
Gretel de Paz bagged the 57th gold medal in the 56-kg class of kickboxing’s low kick event.
Alvin Lobreguito delivered the country’s 52nd gold by humbling Thailand’s Nattawut Kaewkhuanchum, 6-2 in men’s freestyle wrestling while arnis’s Trixie Marie Lofranco bagged the 53rd gold in women’s individual anyo non-traditional open weapon category.
Crisamuel Delfin topped the men’s anyo non-traditional event for the country’s 54th gold and another wrestler, Ronil Tubog, made it 55 by beating Indonesian Zainal Abidin in men’s freestyle 61-kg event.
A day after ending the reign of Indonesia, Gilas hurdled the final obstacle in its bid to reclaim its seat at the high table with a pesky defense that stopped the Cambodians’ usually high-octane offense.
The team’s solid defensive effort was in full display in the second quarter, where they scored 23 while limiting the hosts to just 11 to grab a 44-33 halftime lead.
“We just keep fighting and it really feels great to get the win. We knew this won’t be easy so thankful to all the coaches and teammates for their great job,” Brownlee, the only naturalized player of team Philippines in this SEA Games, said.
With 79 silver and 11 bronze medals that went with the 56 golds, the Philippines ranked fourth in the medals race dominated by Vietnam with a 131-103-108 gold-silver-bronze tally, followed by Thailand (102-82-100), Indonesia (80-76-101) and Cambodia (73-69-120). Singapore wound up sixth with a 48-39-61 haul in the games which winds up with Wednesday’s closing ceremony.
The hosts remained defiant in the last period as they trimmed the deficit to just 59-64 with a little seven minutes left but it came up short after Chris Newsome and Brownlee delivered big shot after big shot with extra rebounding of Brandon Rosser-Ganuelas to stave off the Cambodians rally.
Newsome finished with 16 points, while Marcio Lassiter posted 10 points. CJ Perez, Christian Standhardinger and Ganuelas-Rosser added nine points each.
Cambodia came within 47-52 in the middle of third quarter, but Brownlee and the rest of the Filipinos hung on tough to provide the Philippines a 64-51 lead after the first three periods. Gilas Pilipinas controlled the rest of the last quarter to seal the win.
Philippines has won 19 of 22 SEA Games men’s basketball titles since 1977.
Image credits: Roy Domingo