A resilient Meralco team bucked the absences of top cogs Chris Newsome and Cliff Hodge to hold off Terrafirma, 95-83, in the Bolts' first game after almost two weeks in the 2021 PBA Philippine Cup Thursday at the DHVSU Gym in Bacolor, Pampanga.
Bong Quinto led six players in double figures by tallying 17 points, eight rebounds, three assists, and a steal for the returning Bolts, who improved to 6-2 to solidify their hold of the second seed.
Anjo Caram came up big off the bench with 13 markers, five dimes, and three steals in 33 minutes, Allein Maliksi collected 12 points and six rebounds, while Raymond Almazan finished with 11 markers and eight boards as well as three blocks. Reynel Hugnatan and Alvin Pasaol also added 10 each for a Meralco team that had to overcome as well losing guard Aaron Black earlier in the game to a hand injury.
"What we talked about is we just have to play together and play for one another. That was very important tonight. It was a very tough game against Terrafirma, but our defense held up and the guys came up with big shots," remarked coach Norman Black in the post-game presser. "I think everybody really contributed at some point of the game and I can really say it was a team victory tonight."
Meralco led by as many as 11 in a strong first quarter start, but Terrafirma hung around and even led by two early in the third as Joseph Gabayni and Reden Celda played well enough to keep the Dyip close.
Tied at 75 with over 11 minutes left, Hugnatan, Caram, and Quinto led a 18-4 charge over the next nine minutes to help the Bolts establish a commanding 93-79 lead with 2:20 remaining. That finishing kick proved enough to help Meralco pull away and get back on track after losing its last game to TNT last Sep. 3 and then getting placed under the league's health and safety protocols shortly after.
"We were off for two weeks, so when that happens in the middle of the season, you never have any idea how your team's going to play when you come back," noted Black. "I thought we were very rusty in the first half, but in the second half, we did rebound the ball better, we were getting some shots to go, we were able to take advantage of some matchups that we thought were good for us, and we came up with the victory."
Black's wards now turn their attention to Blackwater on Saturday, in a bid to put themselves in a better position to clinch a twice-to-beat advantage. However, they will have to do so still sans Newsome and Hodge who remain in the league's health and safety protocols.
Newsome is the Bolts' best scorer and playmaker and has averaged 12.9 points on 43.9 percent shooting, 4.7 assists, 4.1 rebounds, and 1.4 steals in seven games, while Hodge leads them in rebounding and has logged 8.0 points on 53.5 percent shooting, 8.3 rebounds, and 1.1 steals in also seven contests.
"I'm pretty sure they won't be back in our next game because that game is on Saturday, but I'm counting on them to be back by the next time we play after that, which I'm not really sure what the schedule is, but whenever we play next week, they should be back already," said Black.
"We have another big game on Saturday against Blackwater. Hopefully we can get that game, then we have a decent chance of trying to go for the twice-to-beat," he added.
Terrafirma slid to 3-7 and was led by Aldrech Ramos, who poured in 15 points on 7-of-14 shots along with five boards, two assists, two blocks and a steal. Gabayni threw in a 14-point, 10-rebound double-double, while Juami Tiongson and Reden Celda tacked on 10 each for the Dyip who have now lost three straight following a surprising three-game winning streak.
Meralco 95 - Quinto 17, Caram 13, Maliksi 12, Almazan 11, Hugnatan 10, Pasaol 10, Belo 9, Jackson 5, Pinto 4, Baclao 2, Jamito 2, Black 0.
Terrafirma 83 - Ramos 15, Gabayni 14, Tiongson 10, Celda 10, Calvo 9, Batiller 9, Camson 6, McCarthy 4, Ganuelas-Rosser 4, Adams 2.
Quarters: 25-19, 50-49, 73-70, 95-83.
- Aaron Black, who only played two minutes before exiting with a hand injury, will undergo more tests. According to coach Norman Black, also his father: "I just got word that he hurt his hand. He didn't break it. I'm not sure how serious it is yet. He has to go to the hospital to get x-rays. So we'll figure it out later. At least it's no broken bones and hopefully, he'll heal as quickly as possible."
- Caram was a team-high +14 and was hailed the Best Player of the Game.
- Meralco vs. Blackwater on Saturday, Sept. 18, at 2:00 p.m.
- Terrafirma vs. Alaska on Sunday, Sept. 19, at 7:00 p.m.