By ADRIAN STEWART CO
The Meralco Bolts fell short of their comeback bid in the 2023-2024 East Asia Super League (EASL) after a close 81-80 loss to the Seoul SK Knights at the PhilSports Arena in Pasig City on Wednesday night, December 27.
Down by as much as 12 points early in the final quarter, the Bolts slowly clawed their way back to cut the deficit to 78-81 with 1:55 remaining courtesy of a triple by Zach Lofton and a basket by Chris Newsome.
The Bolts pulled even closer with less than a minute left at 80-81, following a layup by Lofton.
Meralco had an opportunity to snatch the victory, but Chris Banchero miscalculated his pass to Prince Ibeh with six seconds left.
Jameel Warney spearheaded the offense for the visiting SK Knights with 31 points, seven rebounds, six assists, and two steals, while An Youngjun connected with five triples to end up with 19 markers.
Filipino-Italian guard Juan Gomez de Liaño, who served as Asian Quota Player for the SK Knights, logged in just four minutes and contributed four markers for the Korean Basketball League-based squad.
With the victory, the SK Knights rose to a share of second place in the group with the Ryukyu Golden Kings (2-2), while the Bolts sustained their third defeat in four matches.
Lofton top-scored for the Bolts with 32 points to go with seven rebounds. Ibeh chipped in a double-double of 13 points and 11 rebounds, while Newsome ended with 13 markers.
It was a sorry loss for the Bolts, which were hoping to score a rare back-to-back victory in the home-and-away tournament following their 97-88 victory against the Golden Kings last December 13.
The Bolts cannot afford to take a break as they will prepare for their next game against the New Taipei Kings, led by former NBA star Jeremy Lin, at the same venue on January 3, 2024.
“Tuluy-tuloy kami [sa] Christmas and New Year,” Bolts head coach Luigi Trillo said after their heartbreaking loss to the SK Knights.
“We want to win our next game and give us an opportunity to try and make the next round,” he added./ASC, WDJ