Mar 22, 2023

Tropa breeze past Fuel Masters, clinch semis berth

ITS lethal blend of reliable veterans and Young Turks enabled TNT to manhandle Phoenix Super LPG, 132-105, and quickly make it through to the PBA Governors' Cup semifinals Wednesday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

Jayson Castro, Glenn Khobuntin, Roger Pogoy and Mikey Williams did not let Rondae Hollis-Jefferson's triple double go to waste by spearheading one second half surge after another that enabled the top-ranked Tropang Giga to advance after just one game of their quarterfinals duel.

Trying to offset its No. 8 seeding, Phoenix put on one gallant show. But that lasted only a little over one half as it completely got left in the wake of TNT's inexorable charge to a best-of-five meeting with the winner of the other quarterfinals pairing between No. 4 Meralco and fifth-seed Magnolia.

After the victory, his Tropa's ninth straight dating back to the eliminations, coach Jojo Lastimosa said he's proud of the way his players managed to shake off a listless first half that saw them get tangled in a back-and-forth game.

"There were just a lot of frustrations in the first half, probably because we were expecting too much of ourselves that Phoenix is a pushover but they're not. When we could not get the lead, everyone was frustrated. Not only the players but even the coaches," explained Lastimosa.

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"So at halftime we just said that we need to pull the frustration level down. That's all we did," added Lastimosa. "We just needed to calm down and pick our spots and play the game."

Foremost among who did was Khobuntin, whose career-high 19 points were highlighted by nine third quarter points that sparked TNT's run from the sixth and last deadlock at 66-all and into an 83-71 lead.

Pogoy, Castro and Mikey Williams then took over and stretched the difference to as much as 120-92 that eventually gave Lastimosa the luxury of fielding in Poy Erram in the final 5:21 of the game.

In his first game since undergoing a pre-conference knee procedure, Erram finished with six points and two rebounds, a welcome sign for the Tropa since Kelly Williams might be out for the remainder of the playoffs.

Just seconds after being fielded in late in the first quarter, the former MVP suffered what appeared to be a pulled right calf muscle. "We're expecting the worst in Kelly," said Lastimosa.

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For the moment, Pogoy ably held the fort with 25 points, 18 coming in the second half despite feeling a bit under the weather. Castro did his part with 20 points with 17 of those he scored in the first half that helped keep TNT barely ahead, 66-64 at the break.

Despite being hobbled by four fouls right in the first half Hollis-Jefferson still finished the game and wound up with 18 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists while Calvin Oftana tallied 15 points and Mikey Williams 14.

Du'vaughn Maxwell's 23 points and 10 rebounds paced Phoenix, which also drew 21 points from Jason Perkins and 15 from Javee Mocon. (NC)

The Scores:

TNT 132 - Pogoy 25, Castro 20, Khobuntin 19, Hollis-Jefferson 18, Oftana 15, M.Williams 14, Chua 6, Erram 6, Montalbo 3, Marcelo 2, K.Williams 2, Ganuelas-Rosser 2, Varilla 0, Tungcab 0.

Phoenix 105 - Maxwell 23, Perkins 21, Mocon 15, Serrano 9, Jazul 8, Manganti 8, Tio 7, Muyang 5, Soyud 3, Lojera 3, Alejandro 3, Garcia 0, Camacho 0, Adamos 0, Go 0.

Quarters: 38-41, 66-64, 100-83, 132-105