By John O'Brien
SINGAPORE, June 15 (Reuters) - The Philippines continued their near monopoly on regional men's basketball but not before they were given a huge scare by a plucky Indonesia side in an enthralling Southeast Asian Games gold medal game on Monday.
Forward Mark Rey Belo led the way with 22 points as the Gilas Pilipinas eked out a 72-64 victory at a packed OCBC Arena, delighting a predominantly Filipino crowd, who were able to celebrate a 17th victory in 18 SEA Games basketball tournaments.
"What a great group of guys they are," Florida-born coach Tab Baldwin told reporters.
"This is a very valuable experience in my coaching career. I love this team, I love Philippines basketball and am so honoured to be a part of it and relieved we will take a gold medal home."
The Philippines had thrashed Indonesia 81-52 in pool play last Wednesday and looked set for a similar resounding victory when they pulled 34-21 ahead midway through the second quarter as they dominated in the key and pulled down rebounds at will.
Perhaps complacent, the Philippines started to give away needless fouls and miss shot after shot, allowing Indonesia to rally to within five points early in the third quarter before a booming three-pointer from Almond Vosotros checked the rally.
Leading by 11 heading into the final 10-minute quarter, the Philippines were then guilty of taking on ambitious three-point attempts early on the shot clock as Indonesia rallied for a second time, reducing the deficit to just three points with five minutes remaining.
However, a breakaway dunk from Kiefer Ravena restored a five-point lead for the Philippines, who got a huge defensive rebound from Marcus Douthit with a minute to play as Belo sealed the win with a string of free throws in the closing seconds.
"We have worked so hard as a unit but they drive me crazy the way they play," Baldwin added. "They are young kids and they make a lot of mistakes but they have great heart and a great passion for the game and for their country."
Towering center Douthit praised his young team mates and feels the future of Filipino basketball will be very bright in the hands of the current crop of players.
"These guys may be young but they sure played with a lot of heart. It was something Philippines basketball needed, just to know that these guys are the future and are already winners," the 35-year-old New York-born giant said.
"Most of these guys are not even professional yet so to me, this is the start of something special and hopefully, they will keep improving and carry it on through their career."
Earlier on Sunday, Malaysia eased to the women's gold with an 82-50 victory over Vietnam to complete their pool play with a fourth win in five games, edging out Indonesia on a head-to-head tiebreaker after the teams had finished with identical records. (Editing by Julian Linden)