Converge comes together

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin Henson - The Philippine Star

Converge did exactly what its known for as the FiberXers finally broke into the win column in the PBA Philippine Cup at Meralcos expense at the PhilSports Arena last Sunday. Coach Aldin Ayo took the cue from the teams corporate backer Converge ICT Solutions, a telecommunication service provider with Pampanga roots, to pull his resources together and upset the Bolts, 104-99. It was Converges first win of the conference after eight straight losses.

Talk of tanking to secure the first overall pick in the coming draft went out the window as Ayo leaned on balanced offense and a collective commitment to play defense in shocking Meralco. Converge actually showed signs of renewed life in its previous outing against undefeated San Miguel Beer where the FiberXers led, 29-20, at the end of the first quarter and 50-43 at the half before losing a 112-103 decision. The Beermen unloaded 51 points in a fiery third quarter explosion to break the game open. Converge, however, came back in the fourth to outscore San Miguel, 33-18, but the deficit was too large to overcome. Still, the late fight-back created momentum that Ayo used against Meralco.

Not a single player in Ayos roster is 30 and over, indicating a focus on the future. There are nine rookies in the lineupInand Fornilos, 25, Kamron Vigan-Fleming, 25, Patrick Maagdenberg, 26, Deschon Winston, 25, JL de los Santos, 24, Bryan Santos, 26, King Caralipio, 26, Bryan Andrade, 25 and Andre Flores, 24. Converges top two scorers Alec Stockton (21.9) and Justin Arana (20.7) are also in their 20s. Six players are averaging at least 20 minutes a game and in the Meralco outing, Santos logged 40:11 minutes to score 22 points, including 7-of-10 triples.

In Converges four of eight losses, the margin was in single digits. The blowout setbacks were to Magnolia by 31, NLEX by 22 and Rain or Shine by 21. With a cast featuring nine rookies, Ayo is clearly using this season to push the teams learning curve upwards. If the rumor is true that Justine Baltazar will join the draft this July, Ayo will surely bring him in to shore up Converges frontline with a player close to Pampangas heart.

Stocktons rise as the FiberXers leader was a surprise. He was never known as a scorer at FEU in the UAAP and his reputation as a hard-nosed defender was widely recognized. Last conference, he averaged 9.7 points while Arana hit 14.1 a game. This conference, Stockton has reset his career scoring high twice and against San Miguel, erupted for 36 points. Hes shooting .439 from three and .855 from the line so his arsenal is locked and loaded. Stockton, 25, is also averaging 4.9 assists, a marked increase from 2.7 the previous conference.

What turned Converges fortunes around in the Meralco contest was Ayos trust in his charges. Arana and De los Santos both played at least 30 minutes. Stockton fouled out after 27:29 and Winston came off the bench to fire 14 in 29:23. Converge rebounded by committee and had more boards, 48-37 with Arana and Winston grabbing seven each, Caralipio six and Santos, five. Converge collected 22 assists, three more than its average, and shot 50 percent from the field, way over its .426 clip for the conference. The FiberXerslast two games are against Barangay Ginebra in Cagayan de Oro on Saturday and TNT at PhilSports on May 1.

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