By CHRISTIAN JACINTO
NLEX withstood Big Chill’s late rally to eke out a 79-75 victory yesterday and move a win away from clinching the PBA D-League Aspirants Cup title at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The three-peat seeking Road Warriors leaned on former Letran playmaker Kevin Alas, who poured 13 of his 15 points in the second half, and Matthew Ganuelas, who chipped in 13 points, five rebounds and two blocks.
NLEX almost squandered a 65-50 advantage early in the fourth when Big Chill, bannered by Brian Heruela, made a furious rally to trim its deficit to just three, 68-65.
But the Road Warriors held on to their lead, with Rodney Brondial and Ganuelas completing their freethrows for a 72-65, three minutes left in the game.
Alas then delivered the most telling blow, rifling a triple with 34 ticks left in the game to lift NLEX to a comfortable 78-70 cushion.
“My players stepped up again, even with Big Chill’s strong comeback, they stayed focused and stuck with our game plan,” said NLEX coach Boyet Fernandez.
Jake Pascual and Ola Adeogun likewise delivered for the Road Warriors, contributing 11 and 10 points, respectively, while collaring a combined 21 boards.
NLEX appeared headed to a blowout again with a quick 23-8 lead, but Big Chill slowly gained its rhythm through the inspired plays of Reil Cervantes, Khasim Mirza and Juneric Baloria.
Cervantes topscored for the Supercharger with 17 points, while Heruela nearly completed a triple-double with 12 points, nine rebounds and eight assists.
Compounding Big Chill’s woes was its terrible free throw shooting, making only 14 of 25 tries.
Big Chill coach Robert Sison said they have to address that in Game 2 set either tomorrow or Wednesday if they want to extend their series to Game 3.
The Road Warriors hinted of good things to come when they took a 20-8 lead at the end of the first quarter.
NLEX 79 – Alas 17, Ganuelas 13, J. Pascual 11, Adeogun 10, R. Pascual 9, Dela Cruz 6, Dela Rosa 4, Lanete 4, Raymundo 3, Long 2, Hermida 0
BIG CHILL 75 – Cervantes 17, Heruela 12, Baloria 9, Mirza 9, Brondial 9, Villahermosa 7, Apinan 6, Canlas 3, Maiquez 3, Belleza 0, Lozada 0, Santos 0
Quarters: 20-8, 41-30, 58-46, 79-75