ZACHARY Graham exploded for a conference-high 51 points to lead Air21 to a 128-121 upset of Powerade Friday night in the PBA Governors’ Cup at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
Graham carried again the Express on his shoulders in producing the first 50-point game in the league four years after Purefoods’ Darius Rice dropped 56 against Magnolia in the 2008 Fiesta Conference.
“Zach is really something else,” Express coach Franz Pumaren said. “He’s tailor-made for us.”
But the prolific import got a lot of help this time, as four players finished in double figures for the Express, winner for only the second time in seven games.
Ren Ren Ritualo was a deadeye from downtown as he hit all his six triples to finish with 22 points, his highest output in almost four seasons.
Bitoy Omolon had 17, while James Sena and Mark Isip added 10 points apiece.
“It was just a team effort,” Pumaren said. “Everybody responded well.”
It was the highest-scoring game of the season-ending conference, with the two teams converting more than 50 percent of their shots as they both eclipsed the century mark.
The Express actually outdid themselves as they came in as the league’s worst offensive team, averaging just 88.2 points per game.
But thanks to Graham’s hot hands, the Express already exceeded their average halfway through the third quarter. Air21 finished the quarter with 98 points with still a full quarter to play.
The Express actually led by as many as 25 points, but a second-half meltdown allowed the Tigers to claw their way back.
Josh Vanlandingham scored all of his 10 points in the fourth period --nine coming from three-point range -- to spark the late Powerade run.
The Tigers trimmed the deficit to within five, 124-119, after a Gary David triple with 43.5 seconds remaining, but that was the closest they got.
“We were fortunate to have that big lead in the first half,” Pumaren admitted.
The Express snapped the Tigers’ four-game winning streak.
Omar Sneed, like Graham, also had a high-scoring night with 40 points on top of 21 rebounds, but failed to lead his team to a win for the first time.
David added 28 points for the Tigers.
AIR21 128 - Graham 51, Ritualo 22, Omolon 17, Sena 10, Isip 10, Hubalde 5, Arboleda 5, Sison 4, Bagatsing 2, Espiritu 2.
POWERADE 121 - Sneed 40, David 28, Vanlandingham 10, Al-Hussaini 10, Casio 8, Anthony 7, Lingganay 6, Martinez 5, Guevarra 4, Salvador 3, Allera 0, Calimag 0, Tugade 0, Antonio 0.
Quarterscores: 33-23, 68-44, 99-80, 128-121