MANILA, Philippines – Peaking at the right time, Air21 kept its rise while GlobalPort continued to sink.
The Express turned things around in the second half to defeat the Batang Pier, 87-72, Saturday in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Import Michael Dunigan shone anew with 22 points, 15 rebounds, eight assists, and three steals as five Air21 players scored in double figures with Nino Canaleta and Mike Cortez adding 14 points apiece.
“It’s nice to win four in a row,” said head coach Franz Pumaren as his team improved to 5-5.
But with the conference heating up, Pumaren knows there’s no time for any celebration especially with Rain or Shine next in line on Easter Sunday.
“The next few games are going to be crucial because everybody is in the middle [of the standings] right now,” added Pumaren.
In a must-win situation, GlobalPort started the game the way it should and even held a double-digit lead in the second quarter and took a seven-point lead at the intermission led by Japeth Aguilar’s 10 points, four rebounds and two blocks.
But the Batang Pier seemed to have ran out of steam while in contrast, the Express gained momentum in the second half – surging ahead thanks to a 28-10 scoring outburst in the pivotal third quarter. Air21 grabbed the lead on a couple of free throws from Nelbert Omolon,44-42, and never looked back.
Dunigan and Cortez, who also had seven rebounds, six assists, four steals and a block, padded on to their team’s lead. Dunigan’s three-point play made it, 52-42.
GlobalPort (2-8), which reeled to its seventh straight setback, couldn’t shake off its slump despite parading its second replacement import Sylvester Morgan, who arrived Thursday evening. Morgan collected 23 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks but had six turnovers.
Willie Miller led GlobalPort’s locals with 16 points as Air21 put the clamps down on GlobalPort’s backcourt tandem of Gary David and Sol Mercado.
The explosive guard was limited to just nine points, his first single-digit output this conference, on four-of-10 shooting from the floor while Mercado shot just eight points and committed as many turnovers as assists with six.