By: Leobert Julian A. de la Peña
After back to back losses, the Iloilo United Royals are finally back on the winning track.
The intensity and effort that the Iloilo squad displayed in their past victories were again evident against the Navotas Uni-Pak Sardines, 72-67, giving them a beating in the shaded area and out-shooting them from downtown that helped them nab the win over a struggling Navotas team.
Iloilo finally closed the game in their favor after failing to hold on to their lead in the first three quarters. Leading by as many as 14 points, turnovers and sloppy play allowed Navotas to hand around and even take the lead in the final 5 minutes of the game.
The unorthodox style of coach Eric Gonzales proved to be effective as he started an unusual combination of Donald Gumaru and John Mahari, benching Al Francis Tamsi and Richard Escoto that helped them dictate the tempo in the first.
Escoto provided the highlight play of the game as he energized the Iloilo squad with a one-handed dunk off a breakaway steal.
During the second quarter, Iloilo’s offense began to cool, which then gave veteran Carlo Melegrito a chance to set-up numerous offensive schemes that resulted in conversions that kept them within striking distance, 17-18.
Seeing his team struggling to score the basketball, coach Gonzales of Iloilo immediately sent in his main gunners in Tamsi and Escoto to counter the scoring run that Navotas made.
Tamsi then started to heat-up, losing his defender a couple of times for an easy deuce that helped Iloilo take the lead at the half, 35-29.
The second half continued the high-octane pace of the first two quarters as Iloilo continued to push the ball even on made baskets.
But Iloilo’s carelessness with the ball would result to multiple easy opportunities for Navotas.
As a result, frustration started to show in the third quarter with Gumaru and JR Parker committing careless fouls gifting Navotas trips to the free-throw line.
Iloilo displayed a more controlled game in the last frame but so did Navotas as the game went back and forth.
With under 5 minutes left in the ball game it was Ryan Arambulo who out-hustled the green shirts for loose balls and rebounds allowing Iloilo multiple possessions.
With 58 seconds left in the ball game, Escoto sank two crucial free throws that gave them a 67-64 lead.
After an Iloilo stop and milking the clock, Escoto would again play the hero as he buried a trey at the buzzer, all while getting fouled. He would convert the ensuing free-throw to shut the door on Navotas. Escoto would go on to earn player of the game honors with his double-double performance, 25 points and 10 boards.
Iloilo improved to 10-8 while Navotas fell to a staggering 5-12 record.
Iloilo- Escoto 25, Tamsi 11, Publico 9, Arambulo 6, Jeruta 5, Parker 5, Javelosa 4, Mahari 4
Navotas- Gonzales 13, Bautista 11, Guilen 11, Bondoc 9, Andaya 9, Prudente 4