DUBAI — Smart Gilas Pilipinas crashed into the semifinals of the 21st Dubai International Tournament after fending off Egypt's Al Jazeera, 82-78, Wednesday night (early Thursday in Manila) before a horde of overseas Filipino workers at the Al Ahli Club here.
Skipper Chris Tiu converted five freethrows in the dying seconds as the RP dribblers advanced to the Final Four match against Al-Riyadi of Lebanon – a team bannered by ex-Gilas reinforcement CJ Giles and former PBA import Nate Johnson - Friday night.
Tiu's end-game courage sustained a game-long brilliance by Marnel Baracael, who pumped in 24 points, including the go-ahead basket with under two minutes to play.
Baracael's floater broke the final deadlock and gave Gilas a 77-75 edge.
The Nationals then stifled the Egyptians in the next two possessions before Tiu started hitting his freebies.
Tiu nailed the last two freethrows with just a fraction of a second left after a flagrant foul that assured victory for the Filipinos.
"We played with a big heart. But still, we're not satisfied. We want to go to the Finals,'' said RP coach Rajko Toroman.
Toroman shifted to the zone after Gilas fell behind by 15 in the closing minutes of the second.
It proved favorable and allowed Gilas to take the driver's seat midway in the third, 53-48, after shooting excellently from long range.
Jason Ballesteros again filled in the need for an able slotman after Jamal Sampson spent the entire second half on the bench while Marco Lassiter impressed Toroman with his hustle and steals.
Mark Barroca and JV Casio were also instrumental during their fightback from a 24-39 deficit with Casio nailing two threes during a 12-0 third-quarter run.
"We're up at the start. But we're down by 15 in the second quarter and went up again for the win,'' said Toroman. "These things show the character of this team.''
The Egyptians wiped out the Filipinos’ 14-6 lead by firing 15 consecutive points through Jarred Merill and Shref Guneidi.
Gilas then tightened the noose in the zone while shooting torridly from all angles to overhaul the Egyptian advantage.
After Casio's triple forced a deadlock at 48, Baracael and Lassiter scored five more points, allowing Gilas to take control entering the fourth. - with reports from Albert Alba, GMANews.TV