One streak continues while another comes to an end.
The San Miguel Beermen gave the Meralco Bolts their first taste of defeat in the 2016 PBA Commissioner’s Cup, out-gunning Norman Black’s previously-undefeated squad, 94-86, to take home their third straight victory, Saturday evening in Legazpi, Albay.
Usually reliant on their starting bigmen, San Miguel found their spark early on with Gabby Espinas and Alex Cabagnot, who combined for ten of the Beermen’s 19 points in the quarter. The duo’s much-needed rally came along after sharpshooting import Tyler Wilkerson was sent to the bench after being handed three fouls in the quarter. Arinze Onuaku was able to make the best out of his counterpart’s absence from the court, dominating the paint and shooting where he pleased. However, the rest of the Meralco roster struggled to find their easy shots, giving the Beermen room to pull away late in the quarter after a tough, low-scoring, defensive affair earlier in the period. The Beermen led 19-13 after the first twelve minutes of the ballgame.
A better showing by the Meralco gunners, capped off by a seven-point explosion from veteran Gary David, helped the Bolts come within one early in the second, 25-26. The Bolts’ renewed push culminated in rookie Chris Newsome completing a three-point play to give Meralco their first taste of the lead, 37-36, with just two minutes left on the clock. After another gritty exchange of baskets in the final two minutes of the first half, both teams entered the halftime break with the score tied, 44-44.
What was originally a sluggish, defensive tug-of-war for the ball turned into a more heated scoring affair in the second half, with gunners from both sides trading baskets, possession after possession. Neither team could pull away this time, with the lead changing hands several times in the quarter. Leading the charge for San Miguel were Alex Cabagnot and a much more composed Tyler Wilkerson, while rookie Chris Newsome and import Arinze Onuaku took the scoring reins for Meralco. At the end of the quarter, the narrow lead was with the Bolts, 63-62.
The Meralco import’s free throw struggles, and a spirited display from San Miguel reinforcement Wilkerson, led to the Beermen building the first two-possession lead of the second half, 79-74, just around the halfway mark of the quarter. Baskets from Wilkerson, amid a visibly exhausted San Miguel squad slowing down on the offensive, gave the Beermen enough room to lead by as much eight as the two-minute warning approached. With their own gunners also slowing down to regain some energy, Onuaku kept the scoring alive, but was unable to sink as many shots and fully lock down his San Miguel counterpart.
With two minutes left, with the Beermen led by six, 86-80, Meralco utilityman Kelly Nabong was ejected from the game with 1:28 on the clock following a hard foul on SMB’s June Mar Fajardo.
Wonder-import Onuaku’s continued heroics kept the fire alive despite big misses from his teammates, with Meralco coming within three with just 16.2 seconds on the clock, 86-89. But that was as far as the Bolts could go, as the Beermen addressed the late challenge by sinking all free throws that came their way in the last few possessions. A buzzer-beating triple from Wilkerson put the icing on the cake for the Beermen.
Chris Ross was named Best Player of the Game with 9 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 assists, making crucial stops throughout the game despite his low scoring output. Wilkerson had 27 points and 10 rebounds, while Gabby Espinas contributed 13 points.
Onuaku led Meralco with 28 points and 30 rebounds, while Gary David led the locals with 12 points. Despite losing, the Bolts led the battle for the boards, bringing down 63 rebounds to San Miguel’s 47.
San Miguel improve to 3-1, winning their third straight game after dropping their first assignment, while Meralco remain solo in first despite receiving their first defeat at 5-1.
San Miguel (94) – Wilkerson 27, Espinas 13, Cabagnot 10, Lassiter 10, Fajardo 9, Ross 9, Santos 7, Arana 5, Lutz 4, Reyes 0, Semerad 0, De Ocampo 0.
Meralco (86) – Onuaku 28, David 12, Faundo 8, Newsome 8, Buenafe 6, Dillinger 6, Hodge 4, Hugnatan 4, Alapag 2, Amer 2, Bono 2, Caram 2, Nabong 2.
Quarterscores: 19-13, 44-44, 62-63, 94-86.