Defending champion San Miguel was not yet in its best form Wednesday night, but was glad to pull off a 103-97 win over Meralco in the PBA Philippine Cup at the Ynares Center in Antipolo City.
The Beermen appeared to be in control after leading by 22 points in the second quarter, but had to weather off the Bolts’ torrid outside shooting in the third to forge a tie with the NLEX Road Warriors on top of the team standings with identical 2-0 slates.
June Mar Fajardo overcame the difficulty of facing Meralco’s seldom-used veteran Ken Bono and scored 13 of his 26 points in the fourth quarter while Alex Cabagnot, Chris Ross and Marcio Lassiter provided the needed help in sealing San Miguel’s win.
Still, the Beermen remained far from satisfied with the way they performed this early in the conference. They started the campaign by beating Phoenix, 104-96, last Dec. 17 but not after committing 21 turnovers against the Fuel Masters’ pressure defense.
“Yung third quarter parang disorganized kami, yun dun sila nakahabol,” Fajardo said.
While it still has arguably the best starting five in the league in Fajardo, Ross, Cabagnot, Lassiter and Arwind Santos, San Miguel is hoping for more production from its role players.
Sophomore guard Von Pessumal was inserted in the starting lineup and had 11 points and five rebounds in 22 minutes.
But coach Leo Austria couldn’t hide the reality of San Miguel’s lack of depth, making the absence of No. 1 draft pick Christian Standhardinger because of his stint in the ASEAN Basketball League more important.
“Meron pa kaming hinahanap, kaya lang sa May pa ata darating e,” Austria said in jest. “But right now, I’m trying to maximize our potential and with our first two games, we keep on learning. We know our strengths and our weaknesses.
“In this game, kita naman yung weakness namin which inexploit ni (Meralco) coach Norman (Black). Fortunately, the players really wanted to win,” he added.
The Beermen won’t be returning action until Jan. 13 when they travel to Iloilo City to face TNT KaTropa in the first out-of-town game of the conference.