(STAR) By Joey Villar  – Whether ahead or behind, the Harbour Centre-backed Philippine squad on Tuesday showed it knows how to win ballgames.

Displaying mental toughness and a never-say-die attitude, the Nationals battled back from double-digit deficits and shocked the Singapore Slingers, 100-93, before a roaring Filipino crowd at the Jurong East Sports and Cultural Centre here.

The Nationals went to their defense when their offense began to sputter, neutralizing a team boasting of 6-8 and 6-10 Aussie, American and Macedonian players to score the stirring come-from-behind win, their third straight in their SEA Games buildup.

UAAP MVP Jervy Cruz came away with game-highs of 23 points and 12 rebounds as he held his own against taller, heftier opponents while Jason Castro and Al Vergara ripped through the defense of the Slingers with their drive-and-draw plays to save the day for the RP cagers.

The SEA Games-bound squad earlier thumped the Singapore national team, 90-42, and mauled United States Navy selection, 105-58. But the victory over the Slingers impressed RP coach Junel Baculi and Harbour Centre team owner and amateur basketball godfather Mikee Romero the most.

“The guys showed mental toughness, that was the key. They really want to prove something,” said Baculi.

“This is a huge win,” said Romero, who was so impressed that he gave each member of the team a $100 bonus.

Aussie Singapore Slingers coach Gordon McLeod, in fact, credited the Filipinos’ gritty stand.

“They’re really quick, we were also distracted by their tough defense,” said McLeod, who got into some verbal tussle with Baculi in the first half when Chad Alonzo was assessed a flagrant foul on six-foot guard Shane McDonald.

Cruz’ effort underscored how RP’s big men performed.

Fil-Am Alex Crisano had a couple of uncalled-for fouls but kept his cool long enough to help the team with six points and five rebounds before fouling out in the final quarter.

Allan Salangsang tossed in 12 points while sacrificing his body inside to open up his other teammates while Alonzo and Beau Belga proved as tough and bucked early foul troubles.

The RP cagers also seemed to get to the raw end of officiating as the referees slapped the Filipinos with 39 fouls, mostly soft, touch fouls, as against the home team’s 26. But on each outrageous call, they kept their poise and stayed focused, always reminded by the prospect of getting the same treatment in Thailand.

“There were ridiculous fouls but I told the players that this may also happen in Thailand so we better adjust to the calls and not get affected by it,” said Baculi.

The RP team trailed, 39-51, at the half but the Filipinos found a way to defend without fouling at resumption of play as they used their quickness in pressuring the Slingers to get back into the game.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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