Mapua nears NCAA title, holds off San Beda in Game 1
MANILA, Philippines–Clint Escamis and Paolo Hernandez have come a long way since their last title run together.
They’re about to create a new championship alliance as the Mapua Cardinals moved to the cusp of sealing the NCAA Season 99 men’s basketball crown at the expense of the San Beda Red Lions, 68-63, on Wednesday.
Escamis, the projected rookie-MVP of the tournament, fired 18 points, his free throws in the dying seconds securing the win for the Cardinals, whose last title came 32 years ago.
Hernandez, whose backcourt partnership half a decade ago with Escamis produced a juniors’ championship win for Mapua, tossed in 16 and helped revitalize the team’s offense in the face of San Beda’s searing comeback.
“We’re glad that we secured the first game of the series. Our work isn’t done yet, so we have to prepare for the next game. We know that San Beda will bounce back,” said Mapua team captain Warren Bonifacio.
With the Cardinals narrowly ahead, 66-63, Jacob Cortez eluded his defender and had a good line with his sidestep jumper just outside the arc, but couldn’t get it to drop.
It gave the Red Lions no choice but to foul on the ensuing play, sending Escamis to the line.
“I went 0 of 2 in the semis (against College of St. Benilde) and ended up 1 of 4 with my free throws. Coach (Randy Alcantara) whispered to me that in the finals I will make those free throws and that motivated me,” said Escamis.
James Payosing led the Red Lions with 14 points, Jomel Puno scored all of his 12 points in the first half and Cortez had 12, but the Mapua defense was so smothering that San Beda’s chief weapon from afar got shut down.
The Red Lions went five of 32 from the three-point line, a far cry from the 13 threes they sank against the Lyceum Pirates in their semifinal rubber match.
Hernandez and Escamis orchestrated the assault that put the Cardinals comfortably on top, leading by 16 points capped by Jopet Soriano’s freebies.
Cortez managed to rouse the San Beda crowd back on its feet with a drive and long three at the buzzer that sliced the deficit entering the final period.
The Red Lions zoomed ahead with an eight-point advantage on Jomel Puno’s incursions before the Cardinals overturned the deficit.
Hernandez ignited a 15-2 Mapua tear with a step-back jumper over a smaller Oliver Tagle, paving the way for Escamis to break out of an early scoring dip.
Muffing his first seven shots, Escamis broke the impasse by sinking a pair of free throws and finding sieves in the San Beda defense twice, pushing them ahead, 36-31, at the half.
Game 2 of the finals is set on Sunday at the Mall of Asia Arena.