Columbian coach Johnedel Cardel has labeled CJ Perez as a game-changer and the top pick overall in the last rookie draft did not disappoint.
Perez scored a team-high 26 points in his pro debut in leading the Dyip to a 124-118 shocker over four-time defending champion San Miguel Beer last night in the PBA Philippine Cup at the Cuneta Astrodome.
Jackson Corpuz also played a stellar role with 21 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks on June Mar Fajardo, while Reden Celda and former Beermen Rashawn McCarthy and Keith Agovida had some clutch shots of their own.
Clearly, however, it was Perez coming alive in the second half for 24 of his points that fully stirred Columbian to survive and match its number of wins in last season's edition of the tourney.
"I really tried to push him since he was very tight in the first half," said Dyip coach Johnedel Cardel of the 25-year-old from Lyceum of the Philippines University, who shot just 1-of-6 in the first half but went 8-of-14 in the last 24 minutes.
"I know him. I've followed him since his Lyceum days and I gave him my confidence," added Cardel.
The loss is a bitter one for SMB, which came to the game heavily favored to win, but seemed to have been taken aback by the fierce stance put up by the perennial cellar-dweller.
Cardel said it was by design. "I had a feeling that we’re going to win because of the way we practiced, ahead of the other teams," he related.
"After three weeks we had a boot camp. I also told the boys that if we applied what we did in the three-week practices and one-week camp, we'd have a chance to win. I'm really proud of my boys."
Terrence Romeo, whose move to SMB before the season started made waves, could have helped. But he suffered a mild sprain on his left ankle late in the third quarter and did not return. He finished with seven points, four assists and two rebounds in just over 12 minutes of action.
Arwind Santos led everybody with 34 points, Marcio Lassiter added 25 and Fajardo 16 points and 13 rebounds but committed seven turnovers in the face of Columbian's suffocating defense.
The reigning five-time MVP also just shot 4-of-9 from the stripe, with his last split keeping the Beermen within 113-114.
But McCarthy, seemingly content to be a passer with six assists, suddenly boomed in a contested, catch-and-shoot triple and Perez followed that up with a big defensive rebound and two charities to stretch the lead to 119-113.
Lassiter's seventh triple of the night moved SMB within four, but Perez practically sealed the deal with two more freebies that made it a six-point game, only 10.5 ticks left.
Perez recovering from his dismal first half readily became apparent in the third period, where he scattered 11 of his points to lead Columbian's surge from a 51-54 deficit and into a 74-67 spread, but SMB fought right back led by Santos and went into the final canto with an 86-85 edge.*pba.ph
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