As the final buzzer sounded, Ian Sangalang walked outside the Smart-Araneta Coliseum court and past the San Mig Coffee dugout, before stopping in front of a wooden sculpture of Jesus Christ in a crucifix and bowing his head to pray.
While he thanked God for the Mixers’ 93-90 win in Game Three of the Finals that put them on the verge of the PBA Philippine Cup title, his coach Tim Cone thanked his brave rookie for making the victory possible.
“He’s been Godsend,” the American mentor said. “There’s no way we win that game without him because he stepped in and filled the shoes of Ping (Marc Pingris) and was our inside presence and rebounder, and defender.”
The Mixers leaned on the lanky slotman from Lubao, Pampanga when stalwart Pingris went down with an eye injury with over five minutes remaining in the third quarter.
“Big challenge sa akin kasi si kuya Ping wala,” the 6-foot-6 Sangalang said. “Sobrang energetic nya eh. Makikita mo naman kung gaano magpakamatay sa court. So kailangan gampanan ko yung role niya, kailangan lumaban ako.”
And the former NCAA MVP delivered, filling the void by providing the energy, hustle, and scoring en route to tallying 17 points on 8-of-12 shooting, and eight rebounds in 23 minutes.
After the Game One loss, where Sangalang had only two points and four rebounds, the Mixers have now gone undefeated in the Finals in games where the 2013 second overall pick scored in double figures.
“Lagi lang naman ako positive pag nabibigyan ako ng pagkakataon,” Sangalang said. “Gusto ko laging makatulong sa team, so binibigay ko yung best ko palagi. Hindi ako pwedeng lalambot-lambot dun, syempre very physical yung kalaban, so dapat lagi kang ready.”
And Cone believes Sangalang is only going to get better.
“He looks confident out there now,” Cone said of the rookie, who just turned 22 last December. “When the playoffs started three weeks ago, he looked like who was little out of his element, like it was too much for him and as the playoffs has progressed, he’s just gotten more and more comfortable.
“Now he’s out there calling for the ball. He looks like he’s back in San Sebastian again.”