SAN Miguel is getting a big lift from Jericho Cruz, a player signed just last March who has been paying dividends for the Beermen.
Cruz hit a new career milestone with 30 points, 16 of which came in the breakaway third period, as San Miguel defeated TNT, 115-99, on Thursday night to regain the top spot in the team standings with a 7-1 win-loss slate.
According to PBA statistics chief Fidel Mangonon, Cruz surpassed his previous career-high of 25 points during the 2016 Commissioner’s Cup semifinals in a match played against his current team San Miguel.
Cruz has now hit in double figures in each of the seven games he has played this conference since signing as an unrestricted free agent from NLEX to reunite with college coach Leo Austria.
The former Adamson standout said the attention that six-time PBA MVP June Mar Fajardo attracts from opposing defenses makes like easier for him and the rest of the Beermen scorers.
“Ang advantage ko dito, lahat naka-focus kay June Mar,” said Cruz. “Kapag nado-double team siya, ino-open ko lang sarili ko. Kung open ako, ang trabaho ko is to shoot. Catch and shoot lang. Kung may depensang binibigay sa akin, tinatake advantage ko lang.”
Cruz made an impact on both ends of the floor as most of his points in the third quarter came from TNT turnovers that San Miguel forced. That included one Cruz steal that led to a fastbreak as TNT jumped to an 82-69 lead.
Cruz said he challenged himself to step up defensively after Jayson Castro hit a pair of threes against him early in the game.
“Coming off the bench ako eh, sobrang sama ng play ko. [I] didn’t get to defend Jayson well. Naka-dalawang three points agad siya sa akin. Sabi ko, pagdating ng second half, I’ll put my mindset in it na talagang depensahan siya,” said Cruz.
Cruz said San Miguel treats every game against TNT as a 'playoff game.'
“Kailangan kasi namin ito. Ayaw naming bumaba ‘yung standing namin. Gusto namin nasa 1-2 kami para twice-to-beat advantage kami. Tinrabaho namin. Before the game, nag-usap usap kami ng mga teammates ko. Sabi nila, when we are playing Talk ‘N Text, para itong playoff game,” said Cruz.
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