The Hapee Toothpaste Fresh Fighters are shorthanded, but never underestimate them.
That was the harsh lesson learned by the top seeded Cebuana Lhuillier Gems as the Fresh Fighters dismantled them, 82-71, in Game 1 of their semis series in the PBA D-League Foundation Cup yesterday at the Ynares Sports Arena in Pasig City.
San Beda stars Ola Adeogun and Art dela Cruz and former Ateneo standout Chris Newsome produced big numbers as the Fresh Fighters leaned on a fiery start to take the opener of their best-of-three series.
Though the Fresh Fighters squandered an 11-point lead in the second quarter, they showed their true character with a third quarter rampage to rip the game wide open – this time for good.
Adeogun finished with 25 points and 14 rebounds, dela Cruz had 23 points, nine rebounds, seven assists and two steals while Newsome added 13 points and six assists for Hapee, which can close out the series with a victory on Thursday.
The Fresh Fighters won despite missing Bobby Ray Parks, Garvo Lanete, Earl Thompson, Baser Amer and Troy Rosario for various reasons.
Parks is in the US to pursue his NBA dream, Lanete is still recovering from a knee injury while Thompson, Amer and Rosario are in Singapore to represent Sinag Pilipinas in the Southeast Asian Games.
Cebuana showed little resemblance of a team that topped the elimination round by winning its first seven games. The Gems rallied in the second when they led 38-37, only for the Fresh Fighters to counter with a 14-2 windup to take a 51-40 halftime advantage.
To make matters worse, the Gems lost their star Moala Tautuaa to an ankle injury with 8:23 left in the third period.
The 6-foot-7 Fil-Tongan had to be taken out on a stretcher following a collision with Adeogun. The diagnosis was Tautuaa suffered a sprained ankle.
From there, the Fresh Fighters continued to pounce on the demoralized Gems, and even took a 24 point lead, 80-56 before cruising to a comfortable finish.
“I think we caught them in an off day. Probably a little rusty and I thought our defense was able to hold up early. Saka na wala din si Moala Tautuaa,” said Hapee Coach Ronnie Magsanoc.