CENTRO Escolar University coach Yong Garcia was left to rue the team's flat start in the 56-78 loss to Cignal in the PBA D-League Foundation Cup finals opener on Tuesday.
The Scorpions paid the price for starting sluggishly as it enabled the Hawkeyes to inch closer to capturing their second straight title in the D-League.
Game Two is on Thursday, 5 p.m. at the same venue.
CEU never recovered after falling into a 24-6 hole. Behind Rod Ebondo, they managed to slice the deficit to 12 in the second period before the Hawkeyes started pulling away for good.
"Sobrang bad start," said a frustrated Garcia after the match at the Ynares Sports Arena in Pasig.
As hard as they prepared for the titular clash, Garcia said there was no way they could breeze through Cignal's defense.
It was evident in CEU's woeful 26 percent field goal shooting. Explosive guards JK Casiño and Orlan Wamar wound up scoreless, while Aaron Jeruta was limited to just three markers.
Only Ebondo provided the lift with 27 points, 17 rebounds, and two blocks. But even his Herculean effort was not enough.
"Nahihirapan kami manalo kasi yung field goal namin, 26 percent. Talagang contested lahat ng shots nila. Credit din sa Cignal kasi sobrang ganda ng depensa nila," he said.
But Garcia remains optimistic his team will overcome the 0-1 deficit in the same way they made the improbable run to the finals.
"I’m always pushing my players na ibigay pa rin nila ang best nila at makipag-compete," the amiable mentor said.
"Yun ang importante kasi minsan lang ito mangyari na aabot kami ng championship. Sinasabi ko lang, ibigay nila ang best nila para sa career nila."