ANTIPOLO -- NLEX's gamble in replacing import Olu Ashaolu paid off immediately as Manny Harris posted 45 points in his debut to power the Road Warriors past Columbian Dyip 117-111 in the Governors' Cup on Wednesday at the Ynares Center.
The Road Warriors pass San Miguel in the standings to grab sole possession of second place at 5-1.
"We took a big gamble, actually. Olu was doing really well for us. He brought us to where we are now at 4-1. We took a big risk, but it seems to me after one game that it's worth the risk, that the gamble we took was worth it," coach Yeng Guiao said after the game. "Although Olu was an offensive threat inside, we felt that with the other imports playing outside, being quicker, being able to shoot the outside shot, we felt that we had to find somebody who can match up with that."
NLEX led by as many as 17 in the third, where a Harris dunk in transition pushed it to 83-66, before letting Columbian barge back in it behind Jackson Corpuz and Khapri Alston, whose finish at the basket evened things up at 114 apiece at the two-minute mark.
JR Quinahan sank three free throws after getting fouled from the right arc to give NLEX a bit of a buffer, then Kiefer Ravena later came up with a huge steal on CJ Perez in the ensuing possession to pave the way for a Harris three-point play on the other end, putting the game out of reach, 112-106, with 37 seconds left in the contest. Harris later hit four more free throws to seal the score.
Guiao admitted that they were a little concerned about which version of Harris would show up since his last taste of competitive basketball came six months ago, where he suited up for the Bahcesehir Koleji Istanbul in the Turkish League.
"He also had a hard time adjusting to the time zone. He's still jet-lagged. He's not able to sleep regular hours. He woke up at midnight. That was my biggest worry coming into this game," he said.
Those concerns proved to be unfounded as Harris got going early by scoring 18 first-half points -- including the first of three consecutive 3s by NLEX that turned a one-point lead, 36-35, into a 10-point cushion that the Road Warriors would hold until halftime.
Harris even got more touches in a prolific payoff frame, where he dropped 15 to steady the ship for Columbian in the midst of an aggressive rally by the Dyip.
"Manny actually did better than we expected because in practice, he couldn't do a full practice with us the last three times," observed Guiao. "He's a gamer, he's a competitor. He did what he needed to do for us to win this game."
"He still has a lot of upside Once he gets used to our style of play, once he gets used to the time zone, we're still going to get more from Manny," the coach added.
The former NBA guard, who had stints in Cleveland, Dallas, and with the Lakers in Los Angeles, also shot 15-for-28 from the field and added five rebounds, four assists, three steals and three blocks for a well-rounded line in 35 minutes.
"It's fast-paced and it's physical from what I see. Philippine players are also good, you gotta bring it every night. That's what I think of the league, you gotta come ready to play every night," observed Harris. "I like fast-paced but sometimes in games, you might have to slow it down. You gotta be ready for whatever."
Even after what's considered a prolific debut -- he scored the most points for an import's first game since San Miguel's Chris McCullough dropped 47 in his league opener last conference -- Harris said that he still has more to offer once his body gets used to the time zone and the grind of competitive basketball.
"I feel okay, I'm just trying to get in game shape because I haven't played a game in a while," said the import. "For sure, there's always room for improvement. I don't think I've played my best. But the main thing is we were able to get the win, that's all that really matters."
"I can do a lot more. Rebounds and assists. It might not be every night that you need to score as much points but you might have to get more rebounds and assists. I'm just ready for whatever challenge," Harris added.
He was backstopped by Quinahan, who chipped in 15 points, and Ravena, who tallied 11 points, eight dimes and five boards.
On the other hand, Columbian dropped to 3-2 and was paced by Perez's 21 points. Corpuz ended up with 20 and eight rebounds in his best game since returning from a knee injury, while Alston flirted with a triple-double of 19 points, 17 boards and seven dimes.
NLEX 117 - Harris 45, Quinahan 15, Ravena 11, Galanza 9, Soyud 7, Ighalo 6, Taulava 6, Cruz 6, Miranda 5, Paniamogan 5, Erram 2, Baguio 0, Lao 0.
Columbian 111 - Perez 21, Corpuz 20, Alston 19, Tiongson 18, Celda 12, Calvo 7, Agovida 6, Cahilig 3, McCarthy 3, Faundo 2, Cabrera 0, Flores 0.
Quarters: 28-20, 54-44, 87-77, 117-111.
It was Kiefer Ravena who recommended Harris but Guiao said the import wasn't available when they first checked up on him. "Kiefer recommended him way back, but he wasn't available," Guiao said. "When we contacted him, he was available. Maybe we felt that this was the right time already even if Olu was doing well. If we had waited longer, he might have been somewhere else."
Poy Erram played his first game back from an elbow injury, but was quiet on offense and finished with just two points on 1-for-7 shooting. He did manage 10 rebounds and four block in 26 minutes.
Columbian vs. San Miguel on Oct. 20 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
NLEX vs. TNT on Oct. 25 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.