by Jonas Terrado
San Miguel Beer delivered a big windup to outlast NorthPort, 98-84, Sunday and force a do-or-die match in their PBA Commissioner’s Cup quarterfinal duel at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The Beermen outscored the Batang Pier, 16-3, in the final six minutes to secure a victory that set up a deciding game for a spot in the best-of-five semifinals on Wednesday.
Chris McCullough, June Mar Fajardo, Arwind Santos and Chris Ross during that decisive run after NorthPort closed to within 82-81 behind an offensive surge by rookie Robert Bolick.
SMB showed its playoff swagger despite entering the playoffs with a dreaded twice-to-beat disadvantage for finishing seventh in the elims.
“I’m so happy with the team because they understand the situation right now,” said coach Leo Austria. “We know that we’re not comfortable with this situation (of needing to win twice) but they gave us a chance to win so I’m happy for them.”
McCullough had 24 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and four blocks, Ross produced 18 points and nine rebounds, Santos hit 15 points and Fajardo made 11 points and 19 rebounds in the victory.
SMB also showed composure during the crucial stretches despite separate heated incidents involving NorthPort’s Nico Elorde, Ross, McCullough and Terrence Romeo.
Romeo had to be benched with 8:04 remaining when he and Elorde kept exchanging words and elbows during NorthPort’s rally from being down 71-57 in the third.
Bolick finished with 20 points, eight in the payoff period, but NorthPort, the No. 2 seed after a franchise-best 9-2 mark, fell short of advancing to the semis for the first time since the 2016 Philippine Cup.
Import Prince Ibeh tallied 12 points, 13 rebounds and seven blocks but fouled out with 3:43 left in the fourth and San Miguel ahead 90-81.
SAN MIGUEL 98 — McCullough 24, Ross 18, Santos 15, Fajardo 11, Lassiter 8, Standhardinger 7, Romeo 6, Cabagnot 5, Ganuelas-Rosser 4, Pessumal 0, Vigil 0.
NORTHPORT 84 — Bolick 20, Ibeh 12, Tautuaa 12, Taha 11, Mercado 7, Anthony 6, Ferrer 6, Lanete 4, Elorde 2, Cruz 2, Flores 2, Gabayni 0.
Quarters: 28-18; 47-42; 73-65; 98-84.