IT WASN’T the naturalized player who stepped up when it mattered most for Philippines.
Cebuano June Mar Fajardo showed the world how Filipinos play basketball by scoring the crucial points in overtime to give Gilas Pilipinas a 81-79 victory against Senegal in the FIBA World Cup Thursday night in Seville, Spain.
The victory was the first for the Philippines in the World Cup in 40 years.
With center Andray Blatche fouling out, the 6 foot 10 Fajardo scored on a dunk to make it 71 all with 1:35 remaining in the extra period.
Fajardo also canned two foul shots with less than a minute left to give Gilas a 75-71 cushion.
Jimmy Alapag sank two free throws of his own to stretch the Philippine lead to 77-71.
Senegal came within 77-74 on Maurice Ndour’s three-point shot but Alapag dribbled out the remaining seconds, forcing Senegal to foul him. He made two free throws to keep Gilas out of Senegal’s reach for good.
Fajardo finished with 15 points and nine rebounds with two assists and two steals, while Blatche and Alapag scattered 18 points each to lead the Filipinos, who registered their first win in this quadrennial competition since the 1974 World Championship in Puerto Rico.
Blatche hauled down 14 rebounds despite committing five turnovers.
Although the victory has no bearing after the Philippines lost its first four games in close decisions, the nationals fought gallantly until the end and made sure the win would finally come.
Senegal team captain Maleye Ndoye scored a three-pointer with 33 ticks to go to tie the count at 64-all and both teams failed to score in the remaining seconds that sent the game to overtime.
The Philippines had heartbreak losses to Croatia, Greece, Argentina and Puerto Rico, but ended its World Cup campaign on a high note with the win over Senegal.
Malacanang on Thursday night congratulated Gilas for their victory over Senegal.
“We join our people in proudly celebrating the triumph of Gilas Pilipinas over Senegal in the FIBA World Cup,” Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said in a statement.
“They played with grit and determination, demonstrating the can-do attitude that has propelled the Philippines to being the fastest growing economy in the region,” Coloma said.
JOSEF RAMOS and CATHERINE S. VALENTE