JIMMY Alapag and Richard Howell combined to steady the Talk 'N Text ship following the ejection of coach Norman Black as the Tropang Texters held off San Miguel Beer, 107-99, to grab the solo lead in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup on Friday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Howell, a double-double machine during his NBA D-League days with the Idaho Stampede, scored 11 of his team's first 15 points in the final period to open a 92-76 lead for the Texters while Alapag made sure the lead stood with a late barrage that ended an SMB rally.
The duo's heroics allowed Talk 'N Text to remain unbeaten three games into its campaign in the mid-season conference despite the absence of Black, who was thrown out on successive technicals for complaining about a horror foul called on Howell late in the third quarter.
“First of all, it’s very lonely in the locker room sitting there by yourself,” the mild-mannered coach said after the game, eliciting laughs from the media throng. “It’s my first time to get ejected in 28 years. I’m not even sure if I deserve it (getting ejected)."
San Miguel, which fell to 2-1 (win-loss), trailed by as much as 19 points but got within 93-97 in the final two minutes behind Marcio Lassiter, Chris Lutz and new import Kevin Jones.
Reigning MVP Arwind Santos had a quiet nine points on a frigid 2-of-10 field goal shooting, while Philippine Cup Best Player June Mar Fajardo returned from a two-game absence due to ankle sprain to score seven points and nine rebounds.
Howell led the Tropang Texters with a personal PBA career-best 38 points, to go along with 20 rebounds, five steals and four assists in a solid all-around game for the league-leading squad.
Alapag added 18 and seven assists, while Ranidel de Ocampo chipped in 16.
Talk 'N Text 107 - Howell 38, Alapag 18, De Ocampo 16, Castro 10, Fonacier 8, Canaleta 6, Reyes Ry. 5, Aban 3, Carey 2, Williams 1, Reyes Ro. 0, Baclao 0.
San Miguel 99 - Jones 35, Hubalde 14, Lassiter 12, Lutz 9, Santos 9, Fajardo 7, Mercado 5, Kramer 4, Tubid 2, Ross 2, Maierhofer 0, Duncil 0.
Quarterscores: 26-19, 51-38, 77-68, 107-99