By NIKOLE JAVIER
Meralco needed extra time to turn back Converge and eke out a 132-129 win in the 2023 PBA Governors’ Cup at the Smart Araneta Coliseum on Friday, March 3.
Feeling the importance of the game to their respective playoff bids, the Bolts stood ground and shrugged off the resistance from the FiberXers to improve 6-4 in the standings.
KJ McDaniels dropped a double-double performance of 33 points and 12 rebounds, while Aaron Black led the locals with a 28-point outing.
After setting the tone in the first half, the Bolts encountered a determined FiberXers in the third who erased their 18-point advantage capped by Jamaal Franklin’s two free throws, 80-all.
Converge would hold on to its blistering run and untangle itself from Meralco, creating a nine-point separation heading into the fourth.
The Bolts then would regain a three-point lead with 3:29 left in the fourth, 115-112, but couldn’t completely get the FiberXers off their backs.
Now trailing by two with 28 ticks left in regulation, McDaniels took matters into his own hands and drove to the basket for a layup which tied the game before Franklin missed a potential game-winning jump shot as the game went into overtime.
With Meralco already leading by two, 130-128, with 34 seconds remaining, Converge was unable to convert in the next two possessions.
Racing against time, Barkley Eboña would eventually give up a foul on Allein Maliksi which got them into a heated exchange with six seconds to spare and were slapped with an unsportsmanlike and disqualifying foul, respectively.
From there, Balanza missed his shot from the three-point line and ultimately gave Meralco the win.
“Tonight a lot of the focus was on Franklin, a lot of our defense was centered on how to control him and not let him explode too much on us although he eventually did. In that overtime, just got it out in defense, try to get as many stops as possible. We want to get the basketball to either our import KJ or Aaron because that was what’s working for us,” said Meralco head coach Norman Black.
Danny Ildefonso, who returned to the PBA after eight years in retirement, saw action for four minutes and went 0-of-1 from the field before tallying his lone rebound for Converge.
Franklin, who was fouled out with two minutes left in extra time, dropped a triple-double performance of 57 points apart from 14 rebounds and 11 assists in a losing effort.
Maverick Ahanmisi, who would also head to the dugout first with 5:31 left in the fourth, had 24 points in the losing effort, while Kevin Racal added 14.