The Phoenix Petroleum-Far Eastern University Accelerators lit it up in the second half in a confidence-building win, 90-80, against the eliminated ZC-Mindanao Aguilas on the final day of the elimination round in the 2016 PBA D-League Aspirants Cup.
The Aguilas were able to keep pace with the Accelerators in the first half, as they were able to enter the break tied at 39-all. The Southern-based squad were paced by the nine points of Ken Acibar, while Dexter Garcia added eight markers.
“Nung halftime, I told them that we cannot play like this. We’re leading again, we’re relaxing again, then we’re leading again,” Accelerators head coach Eric Gonzales shared about his team’s dismal first half performance.
Heeding the call of his coach, UAAP Season 78 Final MVP Mac Belo powered Phoenix with a 21-point third quarter outing of the Accelerators. Belo knocked down a triple in the quarter and connected with his mid-range game, scoring nine in the quarter. Ed Daquioag complemented the effort with six points to give Phoenix a 60-53 lead entering the final frame.
Knowing this was their final game for the tournament, the Aguilas blasted an 8-3 rally, started by Robby Celiz and capped by free throws by Garcia to cut the lead to just six, 70-64, with 5:56 remaining in the game. However, Mike Tolomia controlled the pace of the game, wilfully slashing through the lanes and getting to the foul stripe that helped the Accelerators gain a 79-71 lead with 2:24remanining.
The Aguilas made one last rally behind a triple by Garcia and a split on the stripe by Acibar that cut the lead once more to six, 83-77, with a minute to go in the game. However, a beautiful spin move by Tolomia led to a pass to a wide-open Yutien Andrada for a layup. Phoenix went on to win the game 90-80.
“As always, confidence builder siya and, at the same time, we did not want to go into the quarterfinals with a loss,” Gonzales said after the win. “Masaya ako para sa kanila at alam ko na malaking bagay ito as a team.”
He also emphasized that this game made the team realize the importance of playing consistent basketball. “We should play consistent basketball and we cannot play like this in the playoffs,” he said. “Very important yung game na ito since na-realize nila na kapag dinidiinan nila, good things happen.”
Belo once again led all scorers with 24 points on an excellent 8/11 shooting clip. He added six boards and two steals to his impressive statline. Ed Daquioag added 22 markers and was 10/11 from the free throw line.
For the Aguilas, Ken Acibar, before fouling out midway through the fourth quarter, had 18 points on 60% shooting. Garcia added 16 points while Eric Salamat, playing in just his second game for the Aguilas, scored 12 points.
The Phoenix-FEU Accelerators next face the BDO-NU Bulldogs at an as-yet-to-be-determined date. Phoenix-FEU will hold a twice-to-beat advantage in the series.
Phoenix-FEU (90) – Belo 24, Daquioag 22, Tolomia 14, Ru. Escoto 10, Andrada 6, Tamsi 6, Pascual 5, Inigo 3, Ri. Escoto 0, Lee Yu 0.
ZC-Mindanao (80) – Acibar 18, Garcia 16, Salamat 12, Sarangay 10, Celiz 9, Jumao-as 8, Villanueva 3, Ignacio 2, Ongteco 2, Argamino 0, Dadjilul 0, Julkipli 0.
Quarterscores: 21-19, 39-39, 60-53, 90-80.