Reynel Hugnatan and Aaron Black came through in the clutch as Meralco stayed alive against San Miguel, 78-71, in the PBA Philippine Cup playoffs at the Angeles University Foundation in Pampanga on Friday, November 13.
Returning to the All-Filipino quarterfinals for the first time in 5 seasons, the Bolts dragged the twice-to-beat Beermen to a rubber match thanks to timely buckets from Hugnatan and Black.
Hugnatan – who finished with 16 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 steals – gave his side a 73-67 lead with a top-of-the-key jumper before Black padded the Meralco lead to 9 points off a corner three-pointer with two minutes left.
Black showed no rookie jitters in the first playoff game of his young career and chalked up 14 points off the bench.
San Miguel, the reigning five-time Philippine Cup champion, had a chance to trim its deficit to a single possession after that Hugnatan shot only to witness the referee rule out a potential and-one play by Paul Zamar.
Zamar took matters into his own hands and scored back-to-back buckets to put the Beermen within 4 points, 67-71, but that was the closest they could get as they missed 3 triples in the next 3 possessions.
“I’ll take this gift even if it is a day late,” said Bolts head coach Norman Black, who turned 63 a day prior.
“We really needed this win to put a little bit of pressure on San Miguel and to send us into a best-of-two series.”
Baser Amer finished with 12 points and 4 rebounds in the win, Chris Newsome had 11 points, 9 assists, and 5 rebounds, while Bong Quinto had 9 points, 13 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals.
Mo Tautuaa led the Beermen with 14 points and 11 rebounds, but he got limited to just 2 points in the final quarter.
Hounded throughout, Marcio Lassiter struggled to find his rhythm and shot 4-of-18 from the field to end up with 12 points for San Miguel, while Chris Ross had 10 points, 7 assists, and 6 rebounds.
The knockout match is on Sunday, November 15, at the same venue.
Meralco 78 – Hugnatan 16, Black 14, Amer 12, Newsome 11, Quinto 9, Hodge 6, Faundo 4, Maliksi 4, Jamito 2, Almazan 0, Jackson 0, Caram 0.
San Miguel 71 – Tautuaa 14, Lassiter 12, Ross 10, Escoto 10, Zamar 8, Santos 8, Alolino 6, Gamalinda 2, Mamaril 1, Pessumal 0, Comboy 0.
Quarters: 21-11, 40-31, 59-51, 78-71.