COACH Franz Pumaren said the pain of Air'21 heartbreaking loss on Wednesday was somehow eased after they learned that referee Peter Balao was slapped a 10-day suspension without pay for a crucial non-call in the final 10 seconds of the Express' loss to Meralco in the PBA Commissioner's Cup.
“Second quarter of the second game (on Wednesday), I was already told by the Commissioner’s Office that referee Balao was suspended,” Pumaren told Spin.ph just before the team’s practice at the Gatorade Hoops Center in Mandaluyong.
“The mere fact that they suspended the referee is a validation that indeed, there was a non-call in the final 10 seconds. And that just ruined a very nice game,” lamented the Air21 mentor, whose team fell to its fifth straight loss after bowing to Meralco, 88-89, at the Big Dome.
The multi-titled former La Salle coach said the critical non-call dealt another crucial blow to the Express, considering the team managed to stage a huge comeback in the final quarter that saw them take an 88-85 lead late in the game after being down by 18 points.
The Bolts though scored the last four points – a basket from point-blank range by import Eric Dawson and a pair of free throws from Chris Ross for the marginal points.
Air21 had one last chance to steal the game but Mike Cortez lost the handle of the ball after coming into contact with Ross, which was not called, leading to the Meralco guard’s fifth steal as the Bolts went on to escape with the victory.
Air21 board governor Lito Alvarez said he hopes the state of officiating will be tackled in the pro league’s board meeting this month to find ways to improve it.
“It’s a very obvious foul that was not called. And if the foul was called, since Meralco was in the penalty, we could have won the game kung ma-shoot yung two free throws. Game-changer yung non-call na iyun. Sa susunud na board meeting, we hope to na mapag-usapan namin iyan (officiating),” said Alvarez.
Balao is the third referee to be suspended this conference, after Emmanuel Tankion and Allan Balatucan.