MERALCO leaned on a strong second-half assault to deny Petron, 89-83 and spoil the coaching debut of Gee Abanilla in the PBA Governors Cup on Friday night at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Defense played a big role in the Bolts’ huge come-from-behind victory as they shackled highly-touted Petron import Elijah Millsap in the final 24 minutes of the game.
The 6-foot-5 Millsap led the Boosters with 24 points, but was held down to just six in the second half when the Bolts went on a scoring rampage to the horror of Abanilla and new coaching consultant Todd Purves.
It was a sorry loss for Petron, which went through another coaching change for the second time this season.
Abanilla came in to replace Olsen Racela more than a month ago as the former San Miguel point guard was moved by San Miguel Corp. management to San Mig Coffee where now serves as one of coach Tim Cone’s deputies.
The Boosters took a 28-16 lead entering the second period after scoring at will both inside and out.
But Petron’s offense eventually broke down, ending the game shooting just 38.8 percent from the field.
Last-minute import replacement Mario West led Meralco with 23 points and 11 rebounds, despite arriving in the country on the eve of the match.
Meralco coach Ryan Gregorio said West only had one practice with the team before playing in the Bolts’ opening game of the conference.
“It’s a nice win to start the conference especially after the apprehension we had on our import,” said Gregorio.
“He (West) had one practice with us yesterday (Thursday) but the first thing he said when he came in was, ‘Coach, I can’t complain. I believe in the situation where everything works for the best,'" added Gregorio as he paid tribute to the returning import, who suffered leg cramps during the second half.
"So even as a standby import, he still played tremendously especially on defense."
The Meralco coach said given the Bolts’ short frontline, they simply took advantage of their quickness at the post, allowing veteran center Reynel Hugnatan to outplay Petron rookie big man June Mar Fajardo.
The 6-foot-4 Hugnatan eventually scored 16 of his 20 points in the second half as he took Fajardo to school numerous times behind his nifty inside moves.
“I just wanted the match-up, with Papa Rey (Hugnatan’s nickname) playing the five (center position), even though he was half a foot shorter. But we were quicker and I told him (Hugnatan) we just need to find ways against taller opponents,” added the Meralco coach.
Meralco (89) - West 23, Hugnatan 20, Ross 14, Salvacion 13, Wilson 9, Reyes 4, Mangahas 2, Hodge 2, Guevarra 2, Vanlandingham 0, Allado 0.
Petron (83) - MIllsap 24, Santos 16, Fajardo 12, Lassiter 8, Cabagnot 8, Tubid 7, Lutz 2, Lanete 2, Kramer 2, Miranda 2, Deutchman 0, Yeo 0, Ildefonso 0.
Quarterscores: 16-28; 39-41; 66-61; 89-83.