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Zach Lofton’s Remarkable Debut: Scores 54 Points as Meralco Dominates NorthPort

Meralco buckled down to work in the second half to blow NorthPort to smithereens on Sunday, 125-99, in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup. The Bolts rode the hot hands of import Zach Lofton, who delivered 54 points in his first PBA game after replacing Su Braimoh Jr. who hurt his Achilles in the high-wire escape from NLEX last week.

“I thought we did a good job (on defense) … We’re now in striking distance of Top 2,” said coach Luigi Trillo, whose wards improved to 5-1 after the triumph at PhilSports Arena in Pasig City, putting them in third place just behind league-leading Magnolia and upstart Phoenix Super LPG. Only the top four teams by the end of the elimination phase will get to wield twice-to-beat protection in the playoffs. Lofton hit a triple–one of his nine in the clash–33 ticks into the third period, putting Meralco ahead 52-48 while igniting a cutthroat pull-away that ultimately snapped the enemy’s three-game winning streak and handed them their third defeat in eight outings.

“The team, they believed in me, they helped me get to my shots,” said the American guard, who is the smallest reinforcement in this tournament at just 6-foot-4. Allein Maliksi had 18 points while Chris Newsome and Raymond Almazan chipped in 11 each for the Bolts, who captured a third-straight win and continue to generate steam ahead of its battle against Converge set Dec. 17. Fran Yu scored a career-high 31 points to lead all of NorthPort. Arvin Tolentino pumped in 25 as do-it-all import Venky Jois struggled in his return, finishing with nine points and nine rebounds.

Lofton is one of the two imports who backstop the Meralco in the East Asia Super League. His 54 points are the most in a PBA debut since Troy Williams scored 55 for Blackwater in the Governors’ Cup last season. NorthPort, which slid into the 4th spot, will face dangerous Phoenix next on Dec. 20, a chance to secure the twice-to-beat incentive still in play.

The Scores:

MERALCO 125 – Lofton 54, Maliksi 18, Newsome 11, Almazan 11, Banchero 8, Quinto 8, Bates 6, Dario 2, Pasaol 2, Hodge 2, Torres 0, Pascual 0, Rios 0

NORTHPORT 99 – Yu 31, Tolentino 25, Calma 10, Jois 9, Paraiso 8, Amores 5, Munzon 5, Chan 2,
Caperal 2, Ayaay 2, Taha 0, Salado 0, Flores 0

QUARTERS: 16-25, 49-48, 92-64, 125-99.