Pushed to the limit, San Mig Coffee leaned on “Wolverine” to get the job done Thursday night.
Drawing an inspired performance from playmaker Mark Barroca, the Coffee Mixers outlasted hard-fighting Petron Blaze in overtime 92-87 to barge into the semifinals of the PBA Philippine Cup at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
>> Texters, Mixers reach semifinal
>> Aces, E-Painters take 1-0 lead
With starting point guard Jonas Villanueva sidelined by dengue fever, the 5-foot-10 Barroca more than made up for his absence, serving as the steadying force as the No. 2 Mixers held off the stubborn Boosters crew in the extra five minutes.
Barroca scattered 16 points, nine coming from beyond the arc, while former two-time MVP James Yap tallied 23 points and Marc Pingris had 20 for San Mig Coffee, which also exorcised the ghost of its shocking debacle in the quarterfinals last season.
Then known as the B-Meg Llamados, the squad, which finished the eliminations as the top seed and armed with a twice-to-beat advantage, surprisingly got upstaged by the now defunct Powerade Tigers in two grueling games.
But Barroca made sure they won’t be denied this time.
“It was an amazing performance by our wolverine (Barroca),” beamed San Mig Coffee coach Tim Cone. “He was on the ground for 10 to 15 minutes because he hyperextended his elbow. It was gruesome and we all saw it, but he returned”.
“He showed up and he was ready to go. He’s shooting the ball and he’s doing everything,” he added.
Top rookie draft pick June Mar Fajardo dominated with 22 points and 15 rebounds while playmaker Alex Cabagnot had 21 markers, but the Boosters still came up short and were clearly outplayed in the extra period.
Compounding the woes for Petron Blaze was the injury to swingman Marcio Lassiter, who was taken out on a stretcher following a hard fall at the 5:51 mark in the fourth.
Despite trailing by as many as 46-57 early in the third, the Mixers kept their poise and methodically clawed back into the game behind Yap, Pingris and Barroca, pulling within 61-63 into the fourth.
The Boosters, fighting for dear life, seemed ready to live another day, taking a 74-69 cushion off a Chris Lutz lay-up with 7:01 left.
But Petron Blaze struggled from then on as SanMig Coffee uncorked a 10-2 counterattack , capped by a Barroca triple, to gain a 79-76 lead, time down to just 26.3 seconds.
Santos, however, swished through a desperate game-tying triple over Barroca with 10.6 seconds, before Yap muffed his last-gasp attempt as the buzzer sounded, sending the game into overtime.
After a Jay Washington lay-up, San Mig Coffee dropped a decisive 8-2 attack, before Cabagnot nailed an elbow jumper, making it an 85-87 count with 1:45 remaining.
Barroca, although under pressure, managed to score a bail-out floater for an 89-85 cushion before drawing an offensive foul against Joseph Yeo in the other end.
An inside incursion by Fajardo kept the Boosters’ hopes alive but Barroca, who was fouled by Cabagnot, sank two charities for a 91-87 lead with 12.7 seconds left.
Off a timeout, Washington bungled his three-point try then a Pingris split forged the final count.
“Kahit hindi first five, pukpok na rin. Playoff na kaya wala ng sakit sakit pa,” beamed Barroca.
San Mig Coffee will now have to wait for the winner of the Rain or Shine-Barangay Ginebra series, with the E-Painters holding a 1-0 edge in the best-of-three quarterfinals affair.
“Whoever emerges bahala na. We'll be cheerleaders for Ginebra on Game 2,” Cone stated, an observation echoed by Barroca, saying: “Hindi kami tumitingin sa RoS o Ginebra. Basta manalo lang muna ngayon tapos bahala na si Lord kung sino pa makakalaban.”
Texters hold off Express
Earlier, Ranidel De Ocampo drilled in the go-ahead three-point basket in the crunch as Talk ‘N Text dodged Air21’s upset axe,105-100 and, in the process, clinched the first semis berth.
Ryan Reyes and Larry Fonacier tallied 16 points apiece, but it was De Ocampo’s dagger of a trey–over the outstretched arms of Air21 defender Nonoy Baclao–that sparked the Tropang Texters’ strong wind-up.
Despite getting blocked by Baclao in his previous attempt, De Ocampo got a inbound pass at the baseline from Jimmy Alapag then rifled in the game’s biggest bucket, pushing the top-seeded TNT ahead 101-98 with 25.2 seconds left.
Off a timeout, the eight-ranked Air21 opted for a quick two points, with Bonbon Custodio slashing his way to the basket. Forced to foul, the Express then sent Jayson Castro to the 15-foot line, but the cat-quick guard sank his two charities to restore their lead at 103-100, time down to just 13.5 seconds.
With no timeout left, Custodio surprisingly went for a two-point bucket, but he lost control of the leather at the baseline.
The two made free throws by Alapag iced the game for TNT, the defending champion which will face either Alaska or Meralco in the semifinals.
“First of all, hats off to Air21,” stated TNT coach Norman Black. “I think they were well-prepared today. They defended well today. They are much better than their record.”
"We have to figure out what Air21 did to us and pick out our weaknesses that showed tonight. Definitely, we have to raise our game to a different level if we want to get to the finals,” he added.
Going down the drain with the Express’ exit was Mike Cortez’s near triple-double performance of 21 points, a career-best 18 assists, and nine rebounds along with KG Canaleta’s 25 points, 18 coming from beyond the arc.