MANILA, Philippines – Ginebra big man Japeth Aguilar credited young Star import Malcolm Hill for his head's up play in the dying seconds of the "Manila Clasico" last Sunday, which allowed the Hotshots to force overtime at the Araneta Coliseum.
Ginebra was headed for victory in regulation with 2.5 seconds left, only for Aguilar to bite on Hill's pump fake as he attempted a three-pointer.
Aguilar not only fouled Hill, he bowled the 21-year-old import over, and the referee had no choice but to call a foul with still six-tenths of a second remaining. Showing remarkable composure for his age, Hill – in his first conference as a professional basketball player – knocked down all three charities to send the game to overtime.
"Hill did a good job in the last few seconds," said Aguilar after them. "Ang balak ko talaga is I'm gonna go over him, pero he stopped."
"Ibig kong sabihin ng 'go over him,' mag-stay ako sa likod niya," he further explained. "But he pulled back, and went for a pump fake. Na-foul bait niya ako."
Despite Aguilar's error, Ginebra still went on to win the game, 105-101, in overtime. The high-flying big man finished with 12 points and nine rebounds, while Hill fouled out with less than a minute left with 28 points and 12 boards.
The young import went an amazing 11-of-11 at the line.
"Proud pa rin ako sa mga teammates ko," Aguilar said. "We picked each other up, and nagtulungan kami. Test of character talaga itong game na ito."
Still, Aguilar could not help but rue their bevy of missed free throws that made the game so much harder than it should have been.
With Hill leading the way, Star made all 16 of the free throws they attempted. In contrast, Ginebra shot 12-of-30 from the line, and the Gin Kings missed four of six free throws in the final 26 seconds of regulation to keep the door open for the Hotshots.
"Because of our missed free throws, we kept them in the game," said Aguilar. "May mga times na naiwan pa kami sa game."
"We just have to make our free throws and lessen our turnovers," he added.
Meanwhile, Ginebra coach Tim Cone said he did not give Aguilar too much of a hard time over his poorly timed foul.
"I mean, it just happened," Cone said of Aguilar's foul.
"We were trying to switch out, and we had Japeth out there specifically because he has the ability to switch out on smaller guys, and you know Japeth is a shot-blocker. So his instinct on a pump fake is to jump for the shot, and he just went to his instincts," he added.
"You know, obviously it wasn't a good instinct, it wasn't the right thing to do, but he just went to his instincts, and in those situations, you just gotta try to stay disciplined."
Still, Cone said Aguilar could not be blamed for what happened.
"But, you know, it's the last play of the game, there's 15, 16, 17,000 people in the stadium and they're screaming, and it's Manila Clasico, you just gotta move on from it. It's not that big of a deal. You just gotta move on," he said.
Indeed, Cone was proud to see that the Gin Kings recovered from what happened at the end of regulation, and still put together a strong effort in the overtime period. Aguilar, in particular, was somehow able to make up for his error with a tip-in in the closing seconds of overtime to wrap up the victory.
"We're not gonna talk about it because it was just kind of a mistake, you move on from your mistakes, you learn from it. Maybe next time he won't fly at the ball when you're up by three. How many other things did Japeth do that was well?," he pointed out.
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