ROUGHED up and hammered by Alaska’s stinging defense, Air21 Michael Dunigan kept his composure and took on the role of leader of this rejuvenated Air21 Express.
In the end, his resolve was rewarded with a 74-68 win, the biggest so far for the team in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup on Friday night at the Ynares Center in Antipolo.
The 6-foot-9 Dunigan finished with 25 points, 14 rebounds, and five blocked shots as he served as the defensive anchor for the Express in their first back-to-back victories this conference.
“We started the game off right. We usually start slow and had to play catch up the whole game. But we’re the undersized team, we had to be the ones who’ll do the grit and grind. And I know my role is to lead the team on defense,” Dunigan, intense personified, told Spin.ph after the game.
The Air21 import was slapped with a technical foul for shoving Alaska import Robert Dozier when they got entangled under the basket while positioning for a rebound during the second period.
Veteran Nic Belasco and Samigue Eman also tried to get him out of his game as they engaged the import in thrash-talking, but the 23-year-old Dunigan managed to keep his cool and regain his bearings.
“It was a more physical game this time. I watched the game a couple of days ago and I expected the physicality and adjusted to it. I just had to zip my mouth in the second half,” explained the University of Oregon product.
Dunigan proceeded to complete the job down the stretch when he rejected a running jumper by RJ Jazul and a Sonny Thoss’ desperation baby hook, both of which were huge defensive efforts that frustrated the rallying Aces.
At 3-5, Dunigan said there’s no time to celebrate especially as Air21 prepares for its encounter with defending champion San Mig Coffee next Wednesday.
“(Back-to-back wins) is always a confidence-builder. But we can’t be complacent. We’re still trying to make our way to the top, no matter who we’re up against, we got to play together,” he added.