THE young Gilas Pilipinas men’s basketball team gave mighty Serbia a run for their money before ultimately falling, 83-76, in the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament at the Aleksandar Nikolić Hall in Belgrade, Serbia.

Down by as much as 16 points, 56-40, late in the third, the Filipino dribblers launched a remarkable comeback and even took the lead, 74-73, after a layup by guard RJ Abarrientos with 3:51 to go before a stunned partisan crowd. Serbia, though, would grab the driver’s seat a mere 18 seconds later after a dunk by their 7-foot-4 big man Boban Marjanovic, who plays for the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA.

The Gilas had several chances to retake the lead Abarrientos and Ange Kouame missed their attempts and Marjanovic made the Filipinos pay by making a layup for a 77-74 lead. Justine Baltazar closed the gap with a floater but Marjanovic was just too much to handle as he made consecutive baskets to shut the door on the gallant Gilas squad.

Marjanovic ended up with 25 points on 12-of-18 shooting to go with his 11 rebounds.

Kouame led Gilas with 17 points along with seven rebounds, three blocks, and two assists. Jordan Heading added 13 markers spiked by four triples while Kai Sotto and Justine Baltazar had 10 markers each.

Cebuano Carl Tamayo, back in action after suffering an ankle sprain in the FIBA Asia Cup qualifiers, had five points, two rebounds and two steals.

Afterwards, Gilas head coach Tab Baldwin said that as great as his team played against the team that is ranked no. 5 in the entire world, he just doesn’t believe in moral victories.

“A lot of people will see this as a moral victory but I’ve been in this game for such a long time, I just don’t believe in those,” bluntly said the American-New Zealander mentor.

Baldwin rued their misses in crunchtime, which would have put an enormous amount of pressure on a Serbian team that was missing forward Nemanja Bjelica, who plays for the Miami Heat in the NBA.

“We had chances late, good open looks. I think Ange (Kouame) missed a couple, SJ (Belangel) missed one, and Justine Baltazar missed one and they were really good looks. They would have put Serbia under more pressure than they were late in the game,” he added.

Nevertheless, Baldwin was beaming with pride over his young team’s gallant stand.

“I was very proud of the effort today. I want to play better than we played and I know that we can be better. We will play better. Certainly, the flow of the game was very competitive and we put in a great effort,” said Baldwin.

Gilas has one last chance at making it to the next round but they must win against the Dominican Republic. That match is on Friday at 2:30 a.m. (JNP)