Glen Rice, Jr. stepped up to the plate when the TNT Katropa needed it most, repelling a fiery Star Hotshots side, 104-99, to collect their third straight victory, Sunday night at the Ynares Center in Antipolo City.
The Katropa have now improved their card to 7-3, tied with the NLEX Road Warriors. Meanwhile, the Hotshots — who paraded new import Kristofer Acox in lieu of Malcolm Hill — dropped to 5-4, similar to Rain or Shine Elasto Painters.
“We knew that the last four games will be a tough stretch. We’ve been going through ups and downs. But the more important thing is we’re finding ways to win,” lauded TNT head coach Nash Racela of the victory.
Rice, Jr. finished with 43 points, with six coming from the end-game, on 46 percent shooting alongside 19 rebounds, nine assists, and two steals. Jayson Castro, Roger Pogoy, and Troy Rosario each supplied 12 markers.
“I liked what I saw from Troy and Roger. They played like true warriors even if they got hurt,” praised the outspoken tactician of Rosario, who had been hit in the jaw, and Pogoy, who suffered a cut in the forehead.
Down by 13, 91-78, with 10 minutes to go on the payoff period, the Hotshots unfurled a scintillating 18-7 scoring spree — concluded by a Jio Jalalon pull-up jumper — to close within two, 96-98, with 57.6 seconds remaining.
Rice, Jr.’s clutch genes then showed up when needed the most. The former Washington Wizard took matters into his own hands and scored back-to-back baskets to widen the Katropa’s lead to six, 102-96, with 26.4 seconds to go.
Paul Lee tried to will his team back with a trey moments later, but 16 seconds were not enough to build a comeback. Acox fouled Rice, Jr. to freeze the clock, but the latter iced the game with his freebies, 104-99, with 13 ticks to play.
Acox had a commendable outing for Star despite having his debut spoiled, scoring 18 points and grabbing down 18 rebounds in 41 minutes. Lee and Ian Sangalang each made 17 markers, while Jalalon had 13 points and eight dimes.
Both squads shot 47 percent from the floor, but the Hotshots had the upper hand in assists, 25-22, and in bench play, 49-22. However, the Texters rebounded better, 53-43.
TNT will next face the taller Barangay Ginebra San Miguel on Saturday, September 23, 5:15 PM at the SMART Araneta Coliseum, while Star will play the Kia Picanto on Friday, September 22, 4:15 PM at the Mall of Asia Arena.
TNT 104 – Rice Jr. 43, Castro 12, Pogoy 12, Rosario 12, Williams 8, Semerad 7, Reyes 6, Tautuaa 4, Lingganay 0, Carey 0.
Star 99 – Acox 18, Lee 17, Sangalang 17, Jalalon 13, Ramos 11, Pingris 8, Reavis 6, Dela Rosa 4, Barroca 3, Melton 2, Simon 0, Gamalinda 0.
Quarterscores: 27-22, 51-45, 89-75, 104-99.