By JONAS TERRADO
SJ Belangel’s game-winning three that gave Gilas Pilipinas a dramatic 81-78 win over South Korea in the FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers capped off a performance that saw him display steely nerves in his national team debut.
The 5-foot-10 Ateneo guard stood out among a bevy of heroes in Gilas’ gritty comeback from a 17-point deficit at the Angeles University Foundation Sports and Cultural Center when he banked in an off-balanced three from the right elbow off South Korean big man Seounghyun Lee to beat the buzzer.
Certainly, confidence was something that was not lacking for the 21-year-old guard, one of many young Gilas players who held their own through the thrilling affair.
“For me, alam naman to ni Coach Tab (Baldwin) but di talaga ako nawawalan ng kumpiyansa sa sarili ko. Kahit anong mangyari, it all boils down to making it,” Belangel said after finishing with 13 points, five rebounds and two assists in 23 minutes.
Baldwin said after the game that the primary option was for Carl Tamayo to receive the inbound from Dwight Ramos under the basket for a potential winner.
But Tamayo was defended by South Korea’s naturalized player Ricardo Ratliffe while Ange Kouame had a break down on the execution, leaving Ramos to look for the best possible option.
It turned out to be Belangel and the rest was history.
“Dwight made the smart thing because the worst thing would have been to get a five-second call and give the ball to Korea with a chance to win the game,” said Baldwin. “So Dwight took the first available option and that was SJ, and SJ just made a play.
“It’s one of those ones you’ve seen every now and then so everybody enjoys it, except the other team,” added Baldwin.
The moment he received the ball, Belangel knew that there was nothing he could do but to make a shot, even against Lee who is listed at 6-foot-6.
“Yung time na yun, inisip ko na lang na we need a basket. So ayun, binigay sa akin ni Dwight and luckily I hit that,” said Belangel.
South Korea coach Cho Sanghyun later described the heroics as a “lucky shot,” but Belangel said he had to aim for a bank attempt against the taller defender in order to get a good chance at giving Gilas the victory.
“Sinadya ko na boarding yun, and for me lang na pumasok sobrang saya ko,” said Belangel.
“Yung off the fake ginagawa ko yun pero yung one-footed hindi. Yung boarding di ko napapapraktis yun pero tinarget ko sa board kasi mahirap yung angle na straight. So nakita ko lang yung board so tinarget ko yung box and pumasok.”
Belangel’s performance came after being placed in the starting lineup in lieu of Matt Nieto, who will be out until the Olympic Qualifying Tournament due to an injury.