Gilas Pilipinas Men put up a gallant stand against Serbia but came up short, losing 83-76 to open their the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament campaign in Belgrade, Serbia on Thursday.
The national squad battled back from an early 16-point deficit to take a one-point lead briefly in the fourth quarter before Serbia, which leaned on NBA star Boban Marjanovic, ran away with the victory.
Marjanovic scored eight of Serbia’s last 10 points and ended the game with 25, on 12-for-18 field goals, and had 10 rebounds.
Naturalized Filipino Angelo Kouame led Gilas in scoring with 17 points, going 8-for-15 from the field, and also tallied seven boards, three blocks, and two assists.
Jordan Heading chipped in 13 points, including four triples, while Justine Baltazar and Kai Sotto added 10 each.
Gilas coach Tab Baldwin said the team just couldn’t capitalize on several chances they had late in the game, but nonetheless was “very proud” of his players.
“A lot of people will look at this as some sort of moral victory. But I’ve been in this game for such a long time and I just don’t believe in those. We had chances late. We missed good open looks. And they were really good looks, and they would have put Serbia under even more pressure than they were under late in the game,” Baldwin said at the postgame press conference.
“But sometimes, particularly with a young team and a developing team, the occasion can be a bit bigger than we are. But that’s what the learning process is all about.”
Gilas Pilipinas will play Dominican Republic next on Friday at 2:30 a.m.
“We haven’t played a team of that caliber and intelligence that Serbia plays with,” Baldwin added. “Lot of work to do, but we need to put this game behind us, and get ready for the Dominican Republic.”