MERALCO started its road to redemption on the right track as it held off Star, 90-86, in its Commissioner’s Cup debut on Wednesday night at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
Coming off a disappointing Philippine Cup where they won just one of their 11 games, the Bolts banked on last-minute replacement import Arinze Onuaku, who made an immediate impact for the squad.
The Bolts thus have already matched their win total last conference by beating the same, only team they defeated in the all-Filipino conference.
“Hopefully we beat more than just Star this time,” a relieved Bolts coach Norman Black said with a smile. “You don’t know how big of a win this is.”
Onuaku, who arrived just Wednesday midnight, imposed his might down low to register 25 points and 22 boards and three assists, while drawing significant support from locals Chris Newsome and Cliff Hodge.
Newsome, a rookie guard, pounced on his height advantage as he posted up smaller guards and finished with 16 points, including 11 in the payoff period, while Hodge hustled his way to 12 markers and seven rebounds.
"I give credit to my local players who worked hard in the offseason to erase what happened last conference," Black said. "Everybody was focused on trying to get a good start this conference."
Onuaku converted a hook shot to put the Bolts up, 83-73, before the Hotshots made a run capped by a rare four-point play by PJ Simon that trimmed the gap to just 88-86 with 36.1 seconds left.
The 6-foot-9, 275-pound Onuaku, though, retaliated with a jump hook over Denzel Bowles on the other end to seal the deal.
Bowles tallied 20 points, 15 boards, three blocks, and two steals in 29 minutes, but found little production from the Hotshots’ local crew.
MERALCO 90 – Onuaku 25, Newsome 16, Hodge 12, Amer 10, David 8, Nabong 7, Alapag 6, Caram 4, Faundo 2, Bono 0, Dillinger 0, Hugnatan 0
STAR 86 – Bowles 20, Maliksi 14, Simon 12, Barroca 11, Pingris 8, Sangalang 5, Yap 5, Melton 4, Pascual 4, Cruz 3, Reavis 0, Torres 0
Quarterscores: 18-26, 42-43, 67-65, 90-86