By JONAS TERRADO
South Korea coach Cho Sanghyun said there was nothing his players can do to stop SJ Belangel from hitting a buzzer-beating three that gave Gilas Pilipinas a dramatic 81-78 win in their FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers match.
Belangel ended the Philippines’ eight-year jinx against the South Koreans when he scored an off-balanced three off big man Seounghyun Lee to cap off a thrilling game held Wednesday, June 16 at the Angeles University Foundation Sports and Cultural Center in Pampanga.
Cho later described Belangel’s winner as a “lucky shot.”
“We actually planned out a switch from that last two seconds so that there’s no space for a second shot,” Cho said through a translator during the virtual post-match press conference. “But it was a lucky shot. So there was nothing we can do to fix it.
“But on second thought, maybe we could have done a trap. But overall, it was a lucky shot. There was no way of defending it,” added the former South Korean national team player.
The defeat came after South Korea led by as many as 17 points in the first half and even led by five going into the final two minutes.
Instead, South Korea remained winless in eight tries when facing the Philippines on the latter’s home floor.
South Korea, which fell to second in Group A with a 2-1 record, will have a quick turnaround Thursday, June 17 with a game against Indonesia before facing Thailand two days later.
Gilas and South Korea will meet again Sunday, June 20 to wrap up their campaign in the continental qualifiers.
Meantime, coach Tab Baldwin praised the performance and competitiveness of Kai Sotto.
The 7-foot-3 finished with 11 points, seven rebounds and two assists in 18 minutes in his senior national team debut despite having to make a lot of catching up after arriving from the United States last May 31.
Baldwin said Sotto’s response from a slow start against South Korea’s naturalized player Ricardo Ratliffe allowed him to make most of minutes in the opener of the final qualification window.
“I think what we saw from Kai is a very young player who wasn’t really well-prepared,” Baldwin admitted during the virtual postgame press conference.
“But what a heart he has. First couple of times he tried to score but he was very disrupted with the physicality of Ratcliffe and what you saw was him making an adjustment. He started to deliver back, dish back physicality.
“But most importantly, you just saw the determination from Kai to impact the game,” Baldwin added.
Baldwin acknowledged that Sotto still needs a lot of catching up despite his performance but expressed confidence that there’ll be more good games the 19-year-old can provide in the future.
“You can see that he’s good for 3-4 minutes then he gets tired so I think it’s a pretty courageous effort by Kai,” he said. “But we’re gonna see a lot better basketball from him as we move forward and he’s just a very good talent.
“He’s a great, great guy to have on a team environment. He’s made himself very beloved not just to his old friends here but to everybody. And now, I think we see the kind of competitor he is because he wasn’t really ready for significant minutes in this game, but he gave us great minutes.”