SMART-Gilas survives mighty Iran to regain Jones Cup top spot

Photo courtesy of Chot Reyes

The SMART-Gilas Pilipinas national team bounced back from a sorry loss by taking down erstwhile undefeated Iran, 77-75 in the 34th William Jones Cup Friday in Taiwan.

It was a nip and tuck first half before the Philippine team unleashed a furious run to bridge the third and fourth quarters and take a 61-51 lead with less than nine minutes left in the game.

But Iran came roaring back led by star forward Nikkhah Bahrami, cutting the Philippine lead to just two points, 71-69, with less than two minutes left.

Gabe Norwood hit a key three-pointer to push the lead back to five points. SMART-Gilas got a stop on the other end and looked like it would extend the lead, but Gary David missed and Iran found Bahrami on a counter fastbreak to cut the Philippine lead down to just three points, 74-71.

Douthit gave the Philippines another big basket, throwing down a dunk off a bounce pass from Ranidel De Ocampo. Bahrami responded with a quick basket that made cut the SMART-Gilas lead to 76-73 with just 22.4 seconds remaining.

De Ocampo flubbed an opportunity to make it a two-possession game, missing a pair of free throws that could have raised the Filipinos’ lead. With the SMART-Gilas players having to defend the three-point line, Bahrami snuck into the paint for two points that got Iran to within one point, 76-75, with just 7.7 seconds to play.

Iran was forced to foul Jeff Chan, who split his free throws. But Mehdi Kamrani missed a three-pointer at the buzzer allowing SMART-Gilas to escape with the win.

Naturalized center Marcus Douthit scored 22 points while Gabe Norwood added 17 for SMART-Gilas, which took back the top spot in the tournament with the victory after a disappointing loss to Lebanon Thursday. Philippines, Iran, and USA are tied with identical 5-1 records, but SMART-Gilas currently has the edge by virtue of Friday’s win. USA’s lone loss came from Iran earlier in the tournament.

Bahrami, who scored 23 points in the second half including the last nine points for Iran, finished with a team-high 26 points.

The win gives the Philippines the advantage in case of a tie with Iran at the end of the tournament, as the Jones Cup employs the winner-over-the-other rule as a tiebreaker.

SMART-Gilas takes on Chinese Taipei A on Saturday before finishing its campaign versus USA on Sunday.

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