By: Inquirer August 09,2017 - 10:26 PM

Matthew Wright of the Philippines reacts in the first half of a Fiba Asia Cup game against China.

Game Friday

(Nouhad Nawfal Sports Complex)

9 p.m. – Gilas Pilipinas vs Iraq

A Gilas Pilipinas side that didn’t back down at any time just tilted the balance of power in the Fiba Asia Cup by bringing down defending champion China, 96-87, that put an automatic quarterfinal berth well within reach at the Nouhad Nawfal Sports Complex in Beirut, Lebanon last night.

Down to 10 men going into the last 32:27, the Filipinos built a commanding lead early and then bounced back from a momentary loss of focus by riding Terrence Romeo on offense and shutting down the Chinese in the final 4:20 for the first upset of the tournament.

The win, carved out even with Calvin Abueva leaving with 2:27 left in the first period after head-butting Li Gen, put the Filipinos in a position to top Group B and advance to the next round outright.

Romeo scored 14 of his 26 points in the fourth period, eight of them coming in a string that had the Philippines roaring back from an 84-87 deficit to a 92-87 lead going into the final 2:02.

It was a whirlwind offensive show by the 5-foot-10 Romeo, who played behind the shadow of Jason Castro the last time this tournament was played in Changsha, where the Chinese scored a 78-67 decision to win the championship.

Defense jumpstarted the Philippine offense, especially in the stretch with Japeth Aguilar challenging every shot inside and Gabe Norwood harassing China’s best perimeter men to no end.

Christian Standhardinger also made his tournament debut in a huge way, holding his own inside despite being terribly undersized. He answered the team’s call at the last moment as its naturalized player after Andray Blatche refused to make the trip for security reasons.

It was a tense match, to say the least, with tempers flaring on multiple occasions and the Filipinos refusing to back down despite the size advantage the Chinese have on them on all positions.

Guo Ailun rallied the Chinese from deficits of as large as 17 in the first half with a virtuoso performance in the third period, only to foul out with 4:40 left and leaving the Chinese without their go-to-guy.

Gilas next clashes with Iraq at 9 p.m. (Manila time) on Friday.

The Philippines was down to 10 good men from 2:27 left in the first period after Calvin Abueva was tossed out for head-butting China’s Li Gen. Abueva retaliated after being decked by what looked like a closed fist by the burly Chinese forward.

Gilas, which finished second in the last two editions of this championship counting one behind China in 2015, closed out the first half sitting on a 53-39 spread after forcing the Chinese to 10 turnovers and to just four three-pointers, all of them coming in the second period.

Another thing that went against China’s way in the first two periods was the foul trouble that top player Guo Ailun got himself into. He picked up his fourth with still 3:42 left in the second period by clipping a driving Castro, who made it 48-33 with two free throws.

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TAGS: China, Gilas, SHOCKS

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