By JONAS TERRADO
TNT became the first team to make its way to the semifinals after ending Barangay Ginebra San Miguel’s title reign in convincing fashion, 84-71, in the PBA Philippine Cup quarterfinals Wednesday, Sept. 29 at the Don Honorio Ventura State University in Bacolor, Pampanga.
Troy Rosario and RR Pogoy inflicted much of the damage in the second and third quarters that allowed the Tropang Giga to build a big lead that proved to be insurmountable for the depleted Gin Kings to overcome.
Not even an 11-day break could prevent TNT from advancing to the best-of-seven semis against either San Miguel Beer or NorthPort.
In the other game, rookie Calvin Oftana saved NLEX from elimination with a layup in the final seconds to stun Meralco, 81-80.
The third pick in the draft came through for the Road Warriors when he beat the Bolts’ Bong Quinto before converting the go-ahead basket off Jericho Cruz’s layup with 6.1 seconds remaining.
Meralco, with no timeouts left, tried to go for the win but Cliff Hodge’s three-point attempt was way off and NLEX players celebrated after keeping their campaign alive for at least another game.
It was sweet redemption for Oftana, who earlier missed a three with the Road Warriors down a point. But the Bolts blew a chance to extend the lead when Mac Belo missed two free throws with 8.6 seconds to go.
That set up the winning play which NLEX coach Yeng Guiao said was followed to the letter.
“It went exactly as we planned it,” Guiao said. “Of course, sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t happen for you. But we’re really lucky that it happened for us this time.”
NLEX extended the quarterfinal matchup to a knockout match on Friday, Oct. 1 with the winner advancing to the best-of-seven semis against Magnolia Pambansang Manok or Rain or Shine.
Oftana was not just the hero for the Road Warriors as Tony Semerad came through with 23 points, one shy of his career-high.
While the result was convincing, coach Chot Reyes said it took a while before TNT was able to take full command of a Ginebra side that was missing Japeth Aguilar (MCL sprain) and Scottie Thompson (health and safety protocols).
“I thought facing the manpower shortage that they have, they came out with a good gameplan. They made it really, really difficult,” said Reyes. “But in the end, we kinda talk about it and we’ve been off for 10 days and so, we expected that we wouldn’t be sharp to start the game.
“So we discussed that we just need to keep grinding and count on our defense to be able to stay in the game. The game was a lot harder than the score indicated,” he added.
Pogoy led all TNT scorers with 16 points, Rosario added 15 while rookie Mikey Williams had 11 points despite a 5-of-14 shooting but added seven rebounds and five assists.
But it was a collective effort on defense that saw the Tropang Giga limit the Gin Kings to a 30-percent shooting and forced them to 20 turnovers.
Ginebra led 21-17 at the end of the first quarter but Rosario and Williams combined for 15 points in the second period holding its opponent to a 2-of-13 clip to go into halftime up 39-33.
The lead grew in the third and Pogoy made nine and Poy Erram added seven which helped the TNT take a 66-49 lead.
Five straight points by Rosario gave the Tropang Giga their largest lead at 23 with 3:40 to go in the fourth at 84-61.
Christian Standhardinger posted 17 points and 19 rebounds while Stanley Pringle was the only other Gin King in double figures with 15.
NLEX 81 — Semerad 23, Trollano 12, Oftana 10, Cruz 10, Alas 9, Miranda 5, Soyud 4, Quinahan 4, Paniamogan 2, Ighalo 0.
MERALCO 80 — Maliksi 16, Belo 12, Quinto 11, Hugnatan 11, Caram 9, Newsome 7, Almazan 6, Hodge 6, Pasaol 2, Baclao 0, Pinto 0.
Quarters : 20-26, 44-42, 63-64, 81-80.
TNT 84 — Pogoy 16, Rosario 15, M. Williams 11, Montalbo 10, Erram 9, Castro 7, Khobuntin 5, K. Williams 4, Heruela 3, Reyes 2, Marcelo 2, Alejandro 0, Javier 0, Mendoza 0, Exciminiano 0.
GINEBRA 71 — Standhardinger 17, Pringle 15, Tenorio 9, Ayaay 9, Devance 5, Chan 5, Dillinger 4, Caperal 4, Mariano 3, Salado 0.
Quarters: 17-21, 39-33, 66-49, 84-71.