MANILA, Philippines – Former San Sebastian gunner RK Ilagan had the game of his life at the Ynares Center in Antipolo City as he lifted the Alaska Aces with a buzzer-beating game-winner for a 94-93 win over the Meralco Bolts on Saturday, February 26.
The 5-foot-7 guard stood out high above his peers for the day as he finished with a career-high 11 points on 4-of-7 shooting in 20 minutes off the bench.
Coming off an 81-69 lead entering the fourth quarter, the Aces had a massive collapse on both ends as they let Allein Maliksi go off with 10 quick points in a huge 20-2 run for the sudden 89-83 Meralco lead with just 3:50 left.
Within that run, both teams lost key cogs as Maliksi fouled out with 7:31 left, while Alaska import Olu Ashaolu got a disqualifying foul on Cliff Hodge at the 6:18 mark.
However, Ilagan willed the Aces back in the game with back-to-back buckets to inch within two, 87-89, with 2:50 left. After a few more tense possessions, Abu Tratter then sank a clutch mid-range jumper to let Alaska pull within one, 92-93, with 34 ticks left.
New Bolts guard Chris Banchero tried to lift Meralco’s lead to safer ground, but his long two clanked off with 11 seconds left, leading to a Jeron Teng rebound and timeout that set the final play for Ilagan.
Head coach Jeff Cariaso revealed in the postgame presser that the last play was indeed drawn up for his spitfire rookie, who achieved his previous career-best mark of 8 points in under two minutes of play at the 2021 Philippine Cup.
“Honestly, yes. It was [for him]. I think when you put as hard a work as RK does, he deserves the opportunity,” he said.
“I think he was phenomenal against Terrafirma [two games ago]. He was one who helped us get back in that game and I just felt that slowly he needs an opportunity to play.”
Ashaolu and Mike DiGregorio led another spirited win for the retiring franchise with 21 points apiece, while Teng and Tratter added 12 and 9 markers, respectively.
Maliksi finished with a season-high 32 points on 12-of-18 shooting before fouling out, while import Tony Bishop added just 18 markers on a frigid 8-of-23 clip.
With the win, Alaska inched closer to a quarterfinal berth with a 6-3 record, and will try to keep it going with another win against the Phoenix Fuel Masters on Thursday, March 3, 3 pm.
Meanwhile, the Bolts snapped a two-game winning streak, and slid down to a 6-2 slate. They will try to regain their winning form on Wednesday, March 2, 6 pm, against the league-leading Magnolia Hotshots, holders of a 6-1 record.
Alaska 94 – Ashaolu 21, Digregorio 21, Teng 12, Ilagan 11, Tratter 9, Taha 7, Racal 7, Bulanadi 4, Faundo 2, Stockton 0, Ahanmisi 0.
Meralco 93 – Maliksi 32, Bishop 18, Almazan 12, Newsome 9, Quinto 7, Banchero 6, Black 5, Hodge 4, Caram 0, Baclao 0.
Quarters: 23-19, 52-47, 81-69, 94-93.