Alex Stepheson 'missing in action,' bum stomach likely to blame, says Black
Alex Stepheson was held to single digits in scoring ands rebounding for the first time in his stint with Meralco this season. Jerome Ascano

MERALCO coach Norman Black rued the poor performance of an ailing Alex Stepheson that factored heavily in the team’s 108-90 loss to Star in their PBA Commissioner’s Cup matchup on Wednesday night.

Coming in averaging 17.8 points and a tournament-leading 22.3 boards in 38 minutes, the Bolts import was held to single-digit numbers in scoring and rebounding for the first time this conference, contributing just nine points and nine boards against six turnovers in 31 minutes.

“Our import was missing in action today, didn't really play well,” Black said, although noting that the 6-foot-10 Stepheson was hit by diarrhea. “In fairness to him, he has been sick for the last couple of days, he's been pretty weak.”

“He's really been out physically, but I never expected him to play like the way he played today,” the former import honored by the league as 'Mr. 100%' added. “About four or five minutes in, he look tired already. It appeared to be that way the entire game.”

[See 'Tireless' Ratliffe has lifted Star to another level, says Maliksi]

Worse, Stepheson also fouled out for the first time in the tournament, sitting out with still over six minutes left in the game as he helplessly saw his team suffer a second straight loss to give up its hold on the top spot.

“He's a big part of what we do offensively and defensively, so if he's going to have that type of performance, we're gonna have a hard time,” Black said.

The Bolts’ third loss overall also derailed their bid for a twice-to-beat advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

That isn't much of a concern, Black said.

“Well, I'm not so much concerned about that, because I am about the performance in general,” Black insisted.

“The fact that we played poorly and the fact that my import is non-existent tonight, that really concerns me moving forward, because whether we have twice-to-beat, whether its' a best-of-three, we still have to play somebody in the quarterfinals.”

“So we wanna go into the quarters playing good basketball, and in the last couple of games we played quite poorly, particularly tonight, so we just have to find a way to turn it around,” he added.

Follow the writer on Twitter: @KarloSacamos