By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
BOCAUE — Australia retained leadership in Group B of the FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers after it defeated the Philippines, 89-53, in a highly emotional match at the Philippine Arena in Bocaue, Bulacan, that saw a fight break in the third period that eventually halted the contest.
With the top spot at stake heading into the next round of the competition, the two teams played with a lot of pride and emotion but in the end there was no denying the Boomers’ dominance as they banked on their length and crisp outside shooting before the match took an unexpected turn.
The match got off to a competitive start with the two teams trying to establish early control.
Led by National Basketball Association players Thon Maker and Matthew Dellavedova, the Boomers would go on an early run.
But Gilas Pilipinas would eventually catch up with them, with naturalized player Andray Blatche showing the way.
The count stood at 19-16 with two minutes remaining and Australia on top before the Boomers went on a 4-2 run to finish things to hold a 23-18 advantage after the first quarter.
In the second quarter, Australia got it going strong, outscoring the home team, 13-7, to extend its lead to 11 points in the first six minutes of the canto, 36-25.
It was a distance that the Boomers would use as a springboard to hold sway, 52-37, by the halftime break.
The third period saw Australia continue firing from all cylinders, stretching its lead to 31 points, 79-48, with four minutes remaining before a fight broke loose.
Roger Pogoy and Chris Goulding were jockeying for position when the former inadvertently shoved the latter that sent the Australian down.
Big man Daniel Kickert added ember to the fire when he knocked down Mr. Pogoy with a solid elbow, prompting the rest of the Gilas players to come in defense of their teammates and engaging the Australians to a fight.
A long lull ensued as game officials tried to figure out everything that had happened and the penalties to be meted.
When the decision was handed down, four Australians were ejected — Messrs. Goulding, Maker and Kickert and Nathan Sobey — while Gilas saw nine players thrown out, namely, Messr. Blatche and Pogoy, Terrence Romeo Carl Bryan Cruz, Jayson William, Calvin Abueva, Troy Rosario, Japeth Aguilar and Matthew Wright.
The decision left the Philippines with only three players — June Mar Fajardo, Gabe Norwood and Baser Amer.
The game continued until it was finally stopped at the 1:57 mark of the period and the score at 89-53 when it was only Mr. Amer who was left on the court for the Philippines after Messrs. Fajardo and Norwood fouled out.
Mr. Goulding led Australia with 20 points followed by Mr. Kickert with 12.
Mr. Blatche paced Gilas with 12 and Mr. Fajardo had 10.
Following the game, both teams did not hold a postgame press conference as deemed necessary by FIBA.
After the first round, Australia topped the grouping with a 5-1 record while the Philippines finished second at 4-2.
Japan squeaked its way to the next round by finishing with a 2-4 record, edging Chinese Taipei (1-5).
Meanwhile, prior to the start of the game the Australian team released a statement regarding the “peeling” incident involving it a day before.
During a closed-door practice on Sunday, the Australian team took liberty in peeling off FIBA-approved decals on the floor over “safety concerns” for its players.
The move did not sit well in particular with the local organizing committee, the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas and the management of the Philippine Arena, describing the act as “uncalled for” and could have been handled more appropriately.
In a statement prior to Monday night’s match, the Australian team, through Mark Bradtke of the Australian Basketball Federation, said it meant no disrespect and was just looking after the welfare of its players.
“We want basketball to be the winner. We also want to have a safe but respectful environment. We are very happy with the new court decals. Our concerns were alleviated,” the statement read.
“Our intentions were pure in rectifying what was potentially a player safety issue for all participants. As our loss against Japan shows, this is a very tough competition, and we wanted the best environment for all players whose health and safety is critical,” it added.
The aggrieved parties accepted the apology.