QUEZON CITY – Moala Tautuaa made a smashing debut for the Cebuana Lhuillier Gems by sinking a crucial free throw with 2.7 seconds left to lift his new team over the CaféFrance Bakers, 86-85, in the resumption of the PBA D-League Foundation Cup Monday (March 16) at the Jesus Christ Saves Global Outreach (JCSGO) Gym. The top rookie pick signed with the Gems after leading the Cagayan Valley Rising Suns to a Second Place finish in last month’s Aspirants Cup.
Fouled by Rodrigue Ebondo in a scuffle for possession and the score knotted at 85-85, Tautuaa actually missed his first attempt but recovered his bearings to tally the go-ahead point. With no more timeouts, the Bakers quickly sent the ball to Maverick Ahanmisi as the Gems then held their breath as his desperation heave from midcourt bounced off the rim together with the sound of the final buzzer.
The Bakers started slow, allowing the Gems to race ahead early in the second period, 28-17. From there, the Bakers came roaring back behind Ahanmisi, Joseph Sedurifa, Jam Cortes and the returning Josan Nimes to erect a 21-point cushion late in the third canto, 73-52, on back-to-back field goals by Yutien Andrada.
Refusing to give up easily, the Gems went on a dizzying rally anchored on Tautuaa, Simon Enciso and transferee Jackson Corpuz from the disbanded Bread Story-Lyceum. With their lead down to only three at the 22-second mark, 85-82, Ahanmisi gave in to the pressure and missed two free throws!
In the ensuing sequence, Enciso made the biggest shot of the contest by canning a triple to tie the score with 16 ticks to play, 85-85. The Gems then forced a turnover, prompting them to call a timeout to set the stage for Tautuaa’s game-winning heroics.
“Even if the team is strong on paper, we have to prove it on the court,” said winning coach David “Boycie” Zamar. “I always believed in our players and they never gave up until the final buzzer.”
Tautuaa finished with new personal best of 34 points on top of 13 rebounds and four assists in 36 minutes on the floor. Corpuz followed with 15 points and 11 rebounds.
“I’m still adjusting but I have wonderful teammates who are helping me,” said Tautuaa. Ironically, his old standard from the Aspirants Cup of 26 points for the Rising Suns was done twice – first in double overtime against the Bakers in his debut game last November 20 and equaled versus the Gems in Game Two of the semifinals last February 9.
Ahanmisi still paced the Bakers with 19 markers and 11 rebounds. Sedurifa added 18 points but went scoreless in the final period.
In the first game, Tanduay Light caught Jumbo Plastic flatfooted early to register a convincing 79-61 decision. Leading for the whole length of the game, the Rhum Masters still could not breakaway until gunner Jaypee Belencion came off the bench to drain three consecutive triples in the third period to double their lead, 48-30.
Belencion’s explosion was too much to bear as the Giants never recovered. Going for the knockout blow early, Aljon Mariano powered another Tanduay Light surge to begin the fourth period en route to their biggest lead, 74-51, on an Adrian Santos free throw.
“One game does not define a whole conference as we were just lucky today,” said Coach Lawrence Chongson. “We are taking things one game at a time so we have to be sure that the players are always ready especially against the top six teams from last conference.”
Sumang led the Rhum Masters with 17 points and eight assists. Mariano was next with 16 points and nine rebounds.
No Giant submitted double figures with Dennice Villamor the high man with nine points. The trio of MacLean Sabellina, Juami Tiongson and Tristan Perez followed with eight points each.
How They Scored:
TANDUAY LIGHT (79) – Sumang 17, Mariano 16, Belencion 14, Santos 9, Foronda 7, Cenal 4, Escueta 4, Rono 4, Jumao-as 2, Ilagan 1, Eriobu 1, Tagarda 0, de la Paz 0.
JUMBO PLASTIC (61) – Villamor 9, Sabellina 8, Tiongson 8, Perez 8, Khobuntin 7, Paniamogan 6, Petilos 6, Avillanoza 5, Almario 2, Rosales 2, Purdy 0.
Period Scores: 21-9, 34-26, 63-49, 79-61.
CEBUANA LHUILLIER (86) – Tautuaa 34, Corpuz 15, Torres 10, Enciso 9, J. Mangahas 5, Acibar 4, A. Mangahas 4, Zamar 3, Vosotros 2, Acosta 0, Marata 0, Bautista 0.
CAFÉFRANCE (85) – Ahanmisi 19, Sedurifa 18, Nimes 10, Cortes 10, Abundo 8, Ebondo 8, Andrada 6, de Leon 4, Noble 2, Jeruta 0, Miranda 0, Batino 0.
Period Scores: 20-16, 32-38, 55-75, 86-85.