Nigerian import Bright Akhuetie underlined how truly big his role is for title contender Perpetual Help.
The 6-foot-8 Akhuetie made a triumphant return on Friday night, powering the Altas to a 58-50 victory over the Jose Rizal U Heavy Bombers to set their title bid in motion in the 92nd NCAA seniors basketball tourney at The Arena in San Juan.
Sidelined by a right knee injury in their 78-83 setback dealt by title favorite Arellano U over the weekend, Akhuetie muscled his way to 19 points, including eight straight in the final canto, while adding five turnovers in nearly 26 minutes of action off the bench, giving the banged-up Altas the inside presence they immensely need.
“It’s tsamba (a stroke of luck),” said Akhuetie with a big laugh, trying to downplay what turned out to be an impressive return. “I just came out to play as always.”
Aside from forcing a three-team tie at 1-1 mark and dealing JRU its second straight loss, Perpetual Help also gave new coach Jimwell Gican his first victory this season after taking over the reins from legendary coach Aric del Rosario.
“First win, at least nabasag na ‘yung itlog,” beamed Gican, who previously handled the Altas back in 2011. “Masaya ako kasi para makabwelo na rin kami.”
Guard Gerald Dizon collected 12 points and eight rebounds while veteran Gab Dagangon added 10 markers and eight boards but it was clearly Akhuetie who spelled the difference to the delight of the Altas faithful.
“Finorce namin siya makabalik agad kasi maliliit kami. Kailangan namin ng serbisyo niya. Sa awa ng Diyos, nakabalik siya at naging Best Player (of the Game) pa,” said Gican of Akhuetie, who played at will even if his injured knee was just at “40 percent.”
JRU Teytey Teodoro waxed hot with 19 points in the first half, making seven of his first 10 tries, but could only come up with just five in the stretch, no thanks to Perpetual Help’s renewed defensive effort.
“Nag-focus talaga kami sa kanya (Teodoro). Kasi alam namin na siya talaga ang i-score ng i-score. Hindi lang one-on-one defense kundi lahat kami naka-focus sa kanya. Hindi baleng maka-score ‘yung iba, ‘wag lang siya,” shared Gican. – By Jerome Lagunzad
PERPETUAL HELP (58) – Akhuetie 19, Dizon 12, Dagangon 10, Ilagan 7, Eze 6, Pido 2, Singontiko 2, Cabiltes 0, Hao 0.
JOSE RIZAL U (50) – Teodoro 24, dela Paz 6, Grospe 6, Lasquety 5, AbdulWahab 4, dela Virgen 3, Evardo 2, Poutouochi 0, Caballero 0, Cruz 0, Mendoza 0, Pontejos 0, Salaveria 0
Quarterscores: 14-all; 31-25; 42-39; 58-50.