The leader all tournament long, Talk ‘N Text became the first semifinalist in the PBA Philippine Cup, but not in the walkover fashion most everyone expected.
The top-ranked Tropang Texters needed to dig deep before pounding out a 105-100 victory against No. 8 Air21 last night behind a big Ranidel de Ocampo basket in the stretch at Smart Araneta Coliseum.
De Ocampo drained a triple under heavy pressure from Nonoy Baclao with 25.3 seconds remaining, shattering the game’s final deadlock for a 101-98 lead that eventually put the defending champions in the Final Four ahead of everyone else.
“He was the second or third option,” Talk ‘N Text coach Norman Black said of De Ocampo, who finished with 13 points.
“Hat’s off to Air21, they were well prepared and they defended us very well,” Black continued. “They are much better than their record.”
The Express proved themselves worthy of sharing the court in a quarterfinal clash with the powerhouse Texters, leading by as many as 11 points in the first half and putting the outcome in the balance until the dying seconds.
Mike Cortez was the biggest reason why the Express were in the thick of the fight throughout, finishing just a rebound shy of a triple double after shooting 21 points that went with a career-high 18 assists.
Air21 was down, 103-100, and had possession, before Bonbon Custodio threw away all chances of forging overtime when he lost the ball while going for a left-handed layup with 5.4 seconds remaining.
Ryan Reyes and Larry Fonacier tossed in 16 points each to lead the Texters, who will clash with either Alaska or Meralco in the semifinals. The Aces, incidentally, will gun for a sweep of their best-of-three series with the Bolts at 5:15 p.m. today also at the Big Dome.
Rain or Shine leads Barangay Ginebra in the other pairing, and a win by the Elasto Painters in their 7:30 p.m. clash with the Gin Kings today would also mean a quarterfinal sweep.
TALK ‘N TEXT 105—Reyes 16, Fonacier 16, Castro 15, De Ocampo 13, Alapag 13, Aban 10, Dillinger 8, Peek 8, Williams 4, Carey 2, Raymundo 0.
AIR21 100—Canaleta 25, Cortez 21, Isip 18, Ritualo 14, Baclao 10, Custodio 9, Arboleda 3, Sena 0, Wilson 0, Reyes 0.
Quarters: 25-23, 51-47, 85-79, 105-100