Meralco ousts NLEX to enter semis

Photo from PBA

Meralco made sure its impressive elimination round performance won’t go down the waste and defeated NLEX, 97-86, in their do-or-die quarterfinals Friday, Oct. 1 to complete the semis cast in the PBA Philippine Cup at the Don Honorio Ventura State University in Bacolor, Pampanga.

The Bolts got a huge lift from Chris Newsome and Cliff Hodge in their fourth game back from the league’s health and safety protocols while Anjo Caram and Reynel Hugnatan were also crucial in preventing the Road Warriors from completing an upset despite a twice-to-win disadvantage.

Newsome put up a game-high 23 points, with nine rebounds, six assists and two blocks while Hodge set the tone in the first half on his way to 16 points and nine rebounds for Meralco, which will face Magnolia Pambansang Manok in a best-of-seven series which starts Sunday, Oct. 3.

Coach Norman Black hailed his players for their defense while managing NLEX’s physicality since the start.

“Whenever you play against Yeng Guiao's teams, it's always gonna be a tough game, it's always gonna be a very physical game. There's gonna be a lot of intensity,” said Black, who steered Meralco to its second straight semifinal appearance in the Philippine Cup. 

“We did a good job defensively. Our defense was very, very solid. They were changing their defenses to try to confuse us on offense. I thought my guys did a very good job of being able to see exactly what they were doing defensively and they reacted very, very well.”

It was Hodge who provided the offensive spark for Meralco in the second quarter, scoring 10 on a perfect 5-for-5 clip while the rest of the team limited NLEX to 5-of-18 from the field for a 46-35 halftime lead.

The Bolts would take an 18-point lead, 62-44, in the third as Newsome continued his scoring and Caram beginning to make an impact with his shooting and playmaking.

But the Road Warriors got to within eight entering the fourth at 68-60 and were able to reduce the margin to seven twice in the period, the last at 82-75, until the Bolts pulled away.

Back-to-back baskets by Newsome and Hugnatan was followed by a three by Caram gave Meralco an 89-75 lead with four minutes to go, a run that broke NLEX’s back.

Caram, who continues to man the point in the absence of the injured Aaron Black, finished with 16 points and six assists while Hugnatan added 11 points.

Trollano scored most of his 19 points when the Road Warriors were to make a rally while rookie Calvin Oftana, whose layup secured an 81-80 win that forced a rubber match, added 14 points and 11 rebounds but cooled off in the second half.

The scores:

MERALCO 97 — Newsome 23, Caram 16, Hodge 16, Hugnatan 11, Quinto 9, Maliksi 8, Belo 7, Pinto 5, Almazan 2, Pasaol 0.

NLEX 86 — Oftana 14, Trollano 19, Quinahan 13, Cruz 11, Alas 10, Semerad 8, Paniamogan 3, Soyud 4, Miranda 2, Ighalo 2.

Quarters: 22-21, 46-35, 68-60, 97-86.