Espinas shines off bench as San Miguel keeps top spot with rout of Blackwater

Gabby Espinas sparked off the bench to finish with 22 and lead the Beermen’s bench scoring of 53 points. Dennis Jerome Acosta/Dugout Philippines

By: Patrick Sutare

PASAY—It was the first game of the new year but there was no stopping San Miguel, picking up where they left off the previous year with a blasting finish over Blackwater, 118-93, Friday night at the Mall of Asia Arena for the PBA Philippine Cup.

For a team that is known to be having just an eight-man rotation, it was unconventional for San Miguel coach Leo Austria to pull off a surprising move of sending rarely used players as early as the second quarter.

But it paid dividends right away.

Gabby Espinas sparked off the bench to finish with 22 and lead the Beermen’s bench scoring of 53 points.

“I think that’s a big factor because pagpasok nung mga second stringers, especially Gabby Espinas, na-provide niya ‘yung firpower e,” said Austria. “Talaga namang isa siya sa mga key players namin. It just happens na sa poste, we have JuneMar.”

The Beermen, though, had a sloppy start, falling behind, 8-2, in the early goings and almost squandered a lead of as much as 29, 69-40, in the second half.

Down 20 with 6:31 to go, 101-81, the Elite mounted a 9-0 assault behind Roy Sumang and Raymond Aguilar to pull to within 11, 101-90, with four minutes remaining.

But San Miguel’s firepower spelled the difference in the game.

Reigning MVP JuneMar Fajardo and star guard Alex Cabagnot connived for five unanswered points as the Beermen held the Elite scoreless till 39 seconds were just left on the clock.

Fajardo led all scorers with 25 on 69 percent shooting, along with eight boards and five dimes as SMB tightens its grip of the top spot with a 6-1 slate.

Arth Dela Cruz notched 16 points and nine boards in 34 minutes for Blackwater, all for a losing effort.

Top rookie Mac Belo struggled to find his mark in the game, scoring just four points while making just a single field goal on five tries.

Blackwater falls to solo fourth with an even record of four wins against four losses.

The scores:

SMB 118- Fajardo 25, Espinas 22, Cabagnot 14, Lassiter 14, Santos 8, Reyes 8, Tubid 8, Van Opstal 6, Ross 4, Agovida 3, Heruela 2, McCarthy 0, Mabulac 0.

BLACKWATER 93 - Dela Cruz 16, Aguilar 15, Pinto 12, Sumang 11, Buenafe 10, Forrester 7, Sena 6, Cervantes 4, Pascual4, Belo 4, Miranda 2, Melano 2, Ababou 0, Banal 0.

Quarterscores: 37-21, 65-40, 91-66, 118-93

Follow him on Twitter: @patricksutare