MERALCO never looked back following a hot start enroute to a 106-77 rout of Air 21, and stayed alive for a playoff spot in the PBA Governors Cup at the Smart Araneta Coliseum Wednesday night.
Mario West, the Meralco import, scored 26 of his 34 points in the first half, when the Bolts surged ahead for good and erected a commanding 29-point cushion.
The Bolts went on a 21-0 run in the first quarter, before taking a 64-35 lead at the half of a game that turned physical in the third quarter following the hard foul committed by Air21's Ogie Menor on West.
Menor, who has earned the reputation as the league's modern-day bad boy, was ejected for committing a flagrant 2 foul on West.
West later stormed into the Air21 dugout after the game and had to be restrained by his teammates from going after the tough-playing Air21 guard.
"Maybe he ran to the dugout to shake Menor's hand," said Meralco coach Ryan Gregorgio sarcastically.
Despite the minor altercation, Gregorio felt confident about the Bolts' chances of making it to the next round.
"We were so determined in tonight’s game because we were hoping to stay afloat,” said Gregorio.
The Bolts won for the third time in seven games for a 3-4 card, and need to win their last two matches to make it to the next round.
“We played so well in the first half that we didn’t give the opponent a chance to breathe,” Gregorio said.
"No less than a sweep is required so it’s going to be a daunting task,” added the Meralco coach. “But it’s workable. We’ve been in this situation before.”
The previous conference saw the Bolts start off with a 1-4 record, before they finished their campaign by winning three of their last four games.
“I like the encouraging signs, ” Gregorio said.
The Express got to within 17 points late in the third quarter, but the Bolts put the outcome beyond doubt with another scoring run in the payoff period.
Mark Cardona added 15 points and Asi Taulava recorded another double-double with 16 rebounds and 11 points for Meralco.
Zachary Graham scored 36 points to lead the Express, who were eliminated from playoff contention after dropping to 1-5 overall.
MERALCO 106 - West 34, Cardona 15, Taulava 11, Mercado 9, Macapagal 9, Bulawan 6, Reyes 6, Hugnatan 6, Ross 5, Yee 3, Aljamal 2, Ballesteros 0, Daa 0, Artadi 0.
AIR21 77 - Graham 36, Ritualo 12, Isip 10, Arboleda 6, Omolon 5, Sena 2, Espiritu 2, Menor 2, Faundo 2, Bagatsing 0, Salamat 0, Sison 0, Escobal 0, Hubalde 0.
Quarterscores: 34-12, 64-35, 82-62, 106-77