Hamady N’Diaye landed awkwardly after a thunderous slam late in the fourth and grimaced in pain immediately. He was taken to the sidelines for treatment and although he clung on to his right knee like hanging on for dear life, the center refused to be sent out.
“It was too close of a game to take me off. I can play through pain most of the time. It was a very crucial moment and they needed me inside and I believe they did not score a lot so maybe it had something to do with me,” N’Diaye, who finished with 8 points, 14 boards, and 5 blocked shots playing almost the entire game (47:29), said.
“Even with the bad landing I told my team they have to fight for me. I couldn’t let them down. They needed someone to show them I am going to fight no matter what. That’s the best thing. Everyone got down and played defense. This team does not get respected so we had to fight through and believe we can win.”
In the same quarter, Jayare Buensuceso was hit in the face in a loose ball scramble although no whistles where blown. Still holding on to the right side of his face, the scrappy player rushed to the other side of the court and went after the ball, forcing a Barako Bull turnover and sprinting towards the other basket to fish a foul.
Earlier, Jason Deutchman was poked in the eye on a rebound play inadvertently and his vision was clearly bothered, although still managed to squeeze in two free throws before being sent out of the match.
Through all the crashing on the floor and injury, Kia never stopped playing and wiled through adversity — the attitude that defined the difference between taking the win or throwing the game away.
And with everyone on the team leaving everything on the floor, the Carnival succeeded in taking down the league-leading Barako Bull Energy, 71-68.
The Carnival do not have stars. They are arguably a bunch of pushovers or scrubs formed together trying to prove they belong to the league. At the start of the season, the squad was a constant laughingstock to pundits, yet the feisty group refused to be treated that way, and kept fighting collectively as one.
“We do not have stars. This is a 12- or 13-man team of undrafted people, of people other teams did not want, for me I just wanted to give it all that I had, just get a steal or a stop and keep going,” Buensuceso, who was a plus-16 in 16 minutes, said.
Buensuceso himself was not even part of hoops anymore three years ago. He was a full-time nurse in the United States and was contented playing pick up games on his free time, but the point guard out of BYU-Hawaii came out of a virtual retirement after a phone call from Manny Pacquiao.
“We depend on each other. We keep pushing each other. There are consistent players but every night, whether it’s win or lose, someone steps up. We just want to be known for everything like that. The toughness and hard-nosed grit,” he added.
With a few free agent pick ups, transactions with other squads, and tireless effort in practice, the Carnival slowly built a reputation as a team that constantly refuses to roll over and die.
“Yung heart nila to play with mental toughness and intensity until the end, I am proud of my players. The inspiration is boss Manny Pacquiao. We want to do whatever it takes, ‘yung preparation niya, ‘yun ‘yung inspiration na nakukuha namin,” assistant coach Chito Victolero said.
The young franchise is slowly building its identity. The individual stories and paths of the players may have something to do with it, but in any case, little by little, with the heart showcased every time the team takes on the floor, support and admiration from a basketball crowd that always loves the puso factor will eventually follow.