Not even a short melee could dim a brilliant NorthPort performance as it demolished NLEX, 115-90, to force a winner-take-all matchup in the 2019 PBA Governors' Cup quarterfinals Monday.
Michael Qualls turned in a terrific offensive showing by dropping 39 points, 16 rebounds and 5 assists for the Batang Pier, which endured some tense moments before avoiding the boot against the twice-to-beat Road Warriors. Christian Standhardinger was also solid in 39 minutes and chipped in 24 and 13 boards to go with 3 steals.
NorthPort was coasting with a 95-81 lead at the 4:54 mark of the final frame before Qualls and Standhardinger got involved in a small tussle against Poy Erram and Paul Varilla. Qualls accidentally stepped in Varilla in a battle for position under the paint, which prompted a reaction from Erram, who struck Qualls with an elbow to the back of the head.
Standhardinger later tried to intervene and defuse the situation, but Varilla then hit the NorthPort center with an elbow to send him to the floor.
After cooler heads prevailed, Erram and Varilla were both assessed disqualifying fouls.
NorthPort later strung together 11 straight points to erect a 106-81 lead to go ahead and tally the wire-to-wire win.
"That's part of the game. What the Commissioner's Office sees is important, and they'll penalize the involved. We're just ready here. I told my players to be ready and be in playoff mode. The physicality is different, there are non-calls but we're ready," coach Pido Jarencio said after the game.
"Of course the temper won't go away because things can get physical. That's why I told them this is a physical game, be in playoff mode. If they don't wanna hurt, they can just play chess instead."
Even before that late-game circus, NorthPort had already frustrated the Road Warriors with dynamic play on both ends of the floor in the first three quarters. Qualls and Standhardinger first combined to score 20 in the first quarter to nearly outscore NLEX themselves before turning up the head in the second quarter, where they forced their foes to miss 15 of 21 shots from the field.
The second half was not any different even if the Batang Pier offense cooled down in the third (32 percent) as they outworked NLEX on the glass to keep the Road Warriors from capitalizing on their misses. NorthPort won the battle on the boards by a sizable margin, 62-49.
"It's not the expectation. That was just the outcome," Jarencio said of the blowout result. "We were making shots, we were being aggressive and we were doing well on defense. The outcome just came after all that."
JR Quinahan led NLEX with 20 points, while Kiefer Ravena added 16 points, 6 rebounds and 5 dimes in the loss. Manny Harris came up with a quiet night and only had 12 points on 18 shots as the Road Warriors struggled as a whole, shooting only 39.6 percent from the field while hitting only 8-for-32 (25 percent) shots from long range.
The knockout match for the semis berth and the chance to face Barangay Ginebra in the semifinals will be held Wednesday, Nov. 27 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
"Our goal is to be in the semis. After the semis, let's see what will happen At least we're even at 1-1," said Jarencio.
NorthPort (115) -- Qualls 39, Standhardinger 24, Anthony 12, Ferrer 9, King 8, Escoto 5, Taha 5, Elorde 5, Lanete 3, Cruz 3, Mercado 2.
NLEX (90) -- Quinahan 20, Ravena 16, Harris 12, Cruz 11, Erram 6, Soyud 6, Alas 5, Paniamogan 4, Varilla 3, Galanza 3, Ighalo 2, Miranda 2, Fonacier 0.
Quarters: 34-24, 61-40, 83-64, 115-90.
NorthPort is only one of two remaining teams NLEX hasn't beaten this season, according to PBA statistician Fidel Mangonon III. The other team is San Miguel.
Philip Paniamogan was also assessed a flagrant 1 after giving Standhardinger an elbow on a screen shortly after that tussle.