After going 0-14 in last season’s all-Filipino tournament when the franchise was still known as Shopinas.com, Pumaren and his Express finally experienced victory in the season-opening conference after beating GlobalPort, 88-81, Sunday at the SMART-Araneta Coliseum.
But Air 21 had to survive some scary moments before securing its first win in two games while handing the Batang Pier their second loss in a row.
“We made a lot of mental lapses till the very end. It’s a sign that we’re still in the stage that everybody is still adjusting to each other,” said Express head coach Franz Pumaren.
“This is entirely a new team. We’re lucky that GlobalPort is also still in getting to know stage,” he added.
John Wilson came off the bench and scored 17 points to lead Air 21, while Mark Isip and Nino Canaleta added 12 apiece.
Rookie Yousef Taha was also impressive for the Express with 12 rebounds and three steals in 29 minutes of play.
Two-time Most Valuable Willie Miller led all scorers with 22 points for GlobalPort while Gary David added 17. But Miller and David combined for 2-of-15 shooting behind the three-point zone.
Batang Pier coach Glenn Capacio did not field in Rabeh Al-Hussaini in the game though the former Ateneo center was fit to play.
Air 21 threatened to pull away after Wynne Arboleda scored on a lay-up to give the Express a 77-65 spread with 5:43 remaining in the game.
But the Express stumbled to a series of turnovers that allowed GlobalPort to close the gap to just four points, 79=75, with 1:09 left.
The Express then sank the needed free throws while Miller and David misfired with their three-point attempts. This allowed Air 21 to escape with the shaky win and bounce back from a 90-87 loss to Barako Bull last Wednesday.
“At least the players are getting used to playing close games,” said Pumaren.
AIR 21 88 – Wilson 17, Isip 12, Canaleta 12, Arboleda 9, Custodio 8, Sena 7, Omolon 6, Atkins 5, Taha 4, Baclao 4, Ritualo 4.
GLOBAL PORT 81 – Miller 22, David 17, Deutchman 14, Manuel 9, Salvador 8, Lingganay 5, Mandani 2, Vanlandingham 2, Adducul 2, Raymundo 0, Guevarra 0.
Quarters: 24-24, 41-39, 65-60, 88-81