MANILA, Philippines — (UPDATED) Gilas Pilipinas' hopes of playing in the 2019 FIBA World Cup suffered another blow on Monday night.
The Philippines bowed to Iran 78-70 at Mall of Asia Arena to drop to 5-5 in Group F of the World Cup Asian qualifiers.
As it stands, coach Yeng Guiao and his crew are in fourth place behind Iran (7-3) and Japan (6-4), who are in second and third places in the group. Only the top three teams in both groups, as well as the best fourth-placed side will advance to the World Cup in China. Australia (9-1) is already through to the World Cup.
This was the Philippines' second straight loss at home, following a shock 92-88 loss to Kazakhstan on Friday.
Japan had beaten Kazakhstan at home, 86-70, also on Monday night.
"Of course, we're disappointed, not just about the match but for the whole window," Philippines coach Yeng Guiao said afterward. "For the most part of the game, we were holding on to a small lead, and we were on the verge of breaking out.
"But it just did not happen," he added. "And towards the end of the game, I felt it was a lack of maturity for our team. It's not as cohesive as we want to be at this point."
Jayson Castro, making his return from suspension, tallied 19 points and 5 rebounds, while Christian Standhardinger added 17 points and 8 rebounds. Marcio Lassiter chipped in 12 points, 11 of which came in the first half.
It was a nip-and-tuck game all throughout, but it appeared as though the Philippines was on its way to breaking the game open after taking a 60-52 lead with 8:24 left off a Beau Belga three-pointer.
Unfortunately for the home team, it turned out to be the start of an avalanche of scoring for Iran. Mohammad Jamshadi, a former PBA import, waxed hot in the fourth quarter, anchoring a blistering 15-2 run that gave the visitors a 67-62 lead with 4:22 to play.
Jamshadi scored 12 points in that run, including the booming three-pointer that gave them a five-point cushion.
The Philippines struck back, with Standhardinger's split at the line and a June Mar Fajardo bucket making it a two-point game, 67-65. After Rouzbeh Arghavan fouled out, the Filipinos surged ahead anew when Castro beat the buzzer with an off-balanced three-pointer for a 68-67 count.
But Behnam Yakhchali nailed a difficult jump shot to give the lead back to Iran, 69-68, and the Philippines blew several chances in the ensuing possessions with Castro bricking three-pointers and Troy Rosario muffing a lay-up. Gilas got a break when Yakhchali mishandled a pass in transition, and in the hosts' next trip down, Fajardo converted a putback that made it 70-69 for the home team with just 69 seconds to go.
It turned out to be the last time that Gilas would get on the board. Yakhchali once more shook off the Filipinos' defense for the go-ahead jumper, and after Rosario missed a three-pointer Jamshadi leaked out for a transition lay-up that made it a three-point game, 73-70, with 26.7 seconds to go.
The Philippines still had enough time, but Scottie Thompson's inbound pass to Standhardinger was picked off by Yakhchali, and the Filipinos had no choice but to send the Iranians to the line.
"For a while there we thought we had a really good chance of winning the game," Guiao said.
"The guys tried their best. I knew and I saw that they were giving their best, but the crucial point in the game, we made some bad decisions and some crucial breaks."
Jamshadi finished with 26 points, 16 of which came in the final quarter, as he matched the output of the entire Philippine team. Yakhchali scored 21 points, and Iran escaped with a win despite seeing Arghavan and big man Meisam Mirzae foul out.
Guiao acknowledged that some adjustments have to be made after the Philippines went 0-2 in the fifth window of the qualifiers.
"It's the same situation against Kazakhstan. We gave up too many free throws again, 33," he said. "That's the problem. I guess we're not really accustomed to the officiating."
"Aside from that, I felt there was a crucial stage in the game where I think there were six or seven offensive rebounds. Just the size of the Iranian team gave us problems," he added. "Not just the size of their big men, but the size of their guards."
"Their guards were also bigger than our guards. Our team has been bigger, but still not as big as the other teams in the region."
Iran shot just a shade better than the Philippines, 40% to 38.8%, and the visitors only made 3 of their 16 attempts from behind the arc. But as Guiao had noted, the hosts gave up 33 free throws, of which Iran made 23; the Filipinos went 11-of-18 from the charity stripe. Also crucial were the 17 points that Iran scored off the Philippines' 15 turnovers.
The Philippines had hoped to take advantage of the absence of Iran stalwarts Hamed Haddadi and Samad Nikkhah Bahrami, but in the end Gilas was still outplayed by the visitors.
"In that situation, I chose the right offense, and our defense got tougher in that time to get those points," Iran coach Mehran Shahintab said of their crunch time execution.
With the result, not only is the Philippines in must-win mode in the final window of qualifiers in February. Gilas also no longer holds its fate in its hands, needing results from other games to fall in its favor if the Filipinos hope to march on.
Gilas plays Qatar on February 21 and Kazakhstan on February 24, both road games.
IRAN 78 — Jamshidijafarabadi 26, Yakhchalidehkordi 21, Mirzaeitalarposhti 11, Arghavan 8, Hassanzadeh 7, Mozafarivanani 3, Hosseizadeh 2, Davoudichegani 0, Rezaeifar 0, Torabi 0, Sedighi 0.
PHILIPPINES 70 — Castro William 19, Standhardinger 17, Lassiter 12, Fajardo 8, Wright 4, Rosario 3, Belga 3, Aguilar 2, Santos 2, Norwood 0, Thompson 0, Tenorio 0.
Quarters: 19-20, 35-39, 50-54, 78-70.
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