MANILA, Philippines - (UPDATE) Air21 set marks in the Philippine Basketball Association last night as it repulsed Globalport, 88-81, for its first win in the new season and its first-ever in an all-Filipino tournament.
The Express took advantage of coach Glenn Capacio’s decision not to field in main big man Rabeh Al-Hussaini, dominating the paint for the victory before a huge crowd at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Al-Hussaini was benched apparently as part of the team’s disciplinary action after an ugly incident in their debut game against Barangay Ginebra Sunday when the 6-foot-7 center engaged team top gun Gary David in a verbal tussle.
Without Al-Hussaini, Air21 outrebounded Globalport, 52-37, and cashed in heavily on it to fuel key spurts in the final half.
“We’re disappointed in our first game where our big guys were outrebounded by more than 15. We made it a point to remind them to control the boards,” said Air21 coach Franz Pumaren.
Versus the Batang Pier, Pumaren also had his disappointment, particularly on how they handled their lead at endgame.
“I don’t know if some of our players are kind of excited in this kind of situation. They rushed things, making a lot of silly decisions. The game should have been over in the last two to three minutes,” rued Pumaren.
But the Express did pull through, handing the franchise its first win in the league’s centerpiece conference.
Carrying the banner of Shopinas.com, the team went 0-14 in this tourney last year. It was the club’s first tournament in the PBA after purchasing the original Barako Bull team.
With an entirely new cast, Air21 broke into the win column early this season while dealing Globalport its second straight defeat.
John Wilson, a transferee from Barangay Ginebra, came off the bench and top scored for the Express with 17 points.
Rookie Yousef Taha also played well off the bench, grabbing a game-high 12 rebounds and adding four points, three steals and two assists in 29 minutes of action.
Wilson and Taha teamed up with Niño Canaleta and Wynne Arboleda as the Express made a decisive run midway through the fourth period, opening up a 12-point lead at 77-65.
Though combining for a poor 2-of-15 three-point shooting, Willie Miller and Gary David still paced the Batang Pier with 22 and 17 points, respectively.
Rookie Jason Deutchman started in place of Al-Hussaini, collecting 14 points and six rebounds.
In the nightcap, LA Tenorio scored five of his 20 points in the last two minutes of play and Barangay Ginebra overcame Rain or Shine in a battle, pulling off a 98-94 win.
Mark Caguioa, Rico Maierhofer and Kerby Raymundo also came through with huge numbers as the Kings gained early solo lead in the tourney with a follow-up to their triumphant season debut versus Globalport Sunday.