By Michael Angelo S. Murillo

GILAS Pilipinas made an auspicious debut in the 2017 FIBA Asia Cup last night, beating defending champion China, 96-87, despite being reduced to 10 men.

Relying on a total team effort on both ends of the court and an explosion from GlobalPort Batang Pier star guard Terrence Romeo in the end, the Philippines withstood a strong challenge from China to book its first win in this year’s edition of the high-profile regional basketball tournament.

Gilas got off to a strong start, scoring the first seven points with big men Japeth Aguilar and Christian Standhardinger on the firing end.

It was a cushion that the Philippines would use to take control of the contest early, notwithstanding the ejection of forward Calvin Abueva after a disqualifying foul slapped on him in the 2:29 mark of the opening quarter for retaliating at the rough play by Chinese forward Li Gen.

The Philippine team, which also played sans June Mar Fajardo who sat out because of injury, would eventually take a 10-point cushion at the end of the first period, 26-16.

Gilas built on the momentum it established in the previous quarter in the second canto as Raymond Almazan and Jayson William (Castro) stepped up their play.

The Philippines would build its biggest lead of 17 points several times in the quarter, the last time with 1:49 left in the opening half, 50-33, en route to taking a 14-point lead by the halftime break, 53-49.

China charged back strong in the third period, towed by seven three-pointers.

But Messrs. Romeo and Standhardinger would keep Gilas’ head above water, 76-70, at the end of the third quarter.

The Chinese remained unrelenting in their comeback bid in the fourth period, led by star Ailun Guo, outscoring the Philippines, 11-6, in the first four minutes to come within one point, 82-81, with 6:02 to go in the game.

They eventually overtook Gilas, 83-82, seconds later.

Mr. Romeo, however, would take the cudgels for Gilas as they stave off the Chinese fight back.

The GlobalPort star racked up eight straight points to overhaul a three-point China lead, 92-87, with 2:12 remaining in the clock.

It was a run by the Philippines that the Chinese would not recover from as Gilas went for the finish en route to notching its first win of the tournament.

Mr. Romeo led Gilas with 26 points, going 5-of-7 from beyond the arc, to go along with four assists.

Mr. Standhardinger had 15 points and six rebounds while Mr. William had 13 points and seven assists.

Matthew Wright finished with 12 points and Mr. Almazan and RR Pogoy had nine points each.

Mr. Aguilar anchored Gilas’ defense with five blocks and seven points.

China, for its part, was led by Mr. Guo with 18 points before fouling out.

Next for Gilas Pilipinas is Iraq tomorrow at 9 p.m.