Lions vault to No. 1; Stags torch Pirates
San Beda clamped down on a lethargic St. Benilde squad early and hammered out a 65-46 victory last night to reclaim the solo lead in the 89th NCAA basketball tournament at Filoil Flying V Arena in San Juan.
The Lions put a lid on the Blazers’ basket, holding them without a field goal in the first 12½ minutes of the game and sustained their balanced charge in the second half to complete the wire-to-wire win.
It was the Lions’ 11th win in 13 games, enabling them to vault past idle Letran at the top. The Blazers absorbed their worst loss of the season and fell to seventh spot at 5-8.
Art dela Cruz shot 14 points as 13 of the 15 players fielded by Lions coach Boyet Fernandez scored at least a point for the Lions.
Earlier, CJ Perez sustained his strong play as San Sebastian bucked the absence of three starters to notch a scrambling 58-53 victory over Lyceum and boost its Final Four hopes.
Tipped as the heir apparent of former San Sebastian star Calvin Abueva, the athletic rookie from Bautista, Pangasinan, fired a career-high 28 points and grabbed 11 rebounds as the Stags nailed an eighth win in 13 games despite missing key players Jamil Ortuoste, Leo de Vera and Bradwyn Guinto.
Perez did most of the damage in the first two quarters, where he matched the Pirates’ total output of 20 points, before the rest of the Stags chipped in on both ends in the second half when the Pirates mounted a last-ditch rally.
With the victory, the Stags kept a two-and-a-half game lead against other Final Four hopefuls St. Benilde, Jose Rizal U and Emilio Aguinaldo College.
Ortuoste, the Stags’ leading scorer with close to 16 points an outing, did not play due to flu-like symptoms, while De Vera was suspended after he was ejected against Mapua. Guinto is out indefinitely after he was diagnosed with typhoid fever.
“I told them at the start this was a huge opportunity,” said San Sebastian coach Topex Robinson. “Of course, we wanted to keep a grip on that No. 4 spot, but more than that it was a huge opportunity for other players to step up.”
The Stags avenged their 55-60 loss to the Pirates in the first round despite committing 30 turnovers and nearly wasting a 16-point halftime advantage.
With Dexter Zamora coming alive in the third period, the Pirates unleashed a second-half assault that allowed them to close in at 35-37 late in the third period, before Perez returned to put the Stags in front, 55-48, heading into the last 2:58.
SAN SEBASTIAN 58—Perez 28, Dela Cruz 6, Rebollos 5, Gusi 4, Tano 4, Trinidad 3, Vergara 3, Balucanag 2, Aquino 2, Magno 1.
LYCEUM 53—Zamora 12, Ko 11, Mbomiko 10, Lesmoras 6, Francisco 4, Ambohot 4, Lacastesantos 2, Taladua 2, Azores 2.
Quarters: 23-12, 36-20, 45-37, 58-53
SAN BEDA 65—Dela Cruz 14, Adeogun 8, Ludovice 8, Koga 7, Pascual 7, Dela Rosa 5, Mendoza 4, Sara 3, Abarcar 2, A. Semerad 2, Amer 2, Abatayo 1, Bonsubre 0, Villaruz 0.
ST. BENILDE 46—Romero 12, Taha 10, Sinco 7, Grey 7, Bartolo 5, Ongteco 5, Jonson 0, Nayve 0, Argamino 0, Saavedra 0, Carlos 0, Garcia 0, Deles 0.
Quarters: 25-2, 34-12, 48-29, 65-46