Jose Rizal University (JRU) and Mapua Institute of Technology defeated their respective opponents on Friday to strengthen their Final Four campaign in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Season 91 men’s basketball tournament at The Arena in San Juan City.
The JRU Heavy Bombers banked on the awesome performance of Paolo Pontejos to upset erstwhile leader Letran Knights 86-80 earning their ninth win after 15 games. Pontejos finished with 21 points plus five assists and three rebounds.
John Grospe contributed 13 points, Darius Estrella 11, Jordan Dela Paz 10 and Bernabe Teodoro nine for the Heavy Bombers under coach Vergel Meneses.
Forward Kevin Racal scored 23 points and Mark Cruz 17 points for Letran. The Knights’ win-loss record dropped to 11-4 allowing defending champions San Beda College Red Lions, with an 11-3 win-loss record, to snatch the solo top spot .
Known for late comebacks, the Knights managed to narrow the gap to just five points in the last period. But the Heavy Bombers stood their ground in the remaining minutes to keep their lead until the final buzzer.
In the first game, pro-bound Earl Scottie Thompson recorded his sixth triple-double this season to power University of Perpetual Help System Dalta’s lopsided 70-47 win over the College of Saint Benilde. The victory steered the Altas to solo third place with 10 wins and four losses.
Thompson, a six-footer point guard who emerged as Ginebra’s fifth overall pick during the Philippine Basketball Association Rookie Draft, finished with 21 points plus 10 rebounds and 10 assists. This is Thompson’s ninth triple-double in his entire collegiate career.
“He [Thompson] is a proven leader of this team,” said Perpetual Help veteran head coach Aric Del Rosario, who led the University of Santo Tomas to fourth straight consecutive championship in the University Athletic Association of the Philippines from 1993 to 1996.
“We have to give our best in the last stretch of the second round,” he added. “We cannot afford to lose in our remaining games because JRU and Mapua are knocking on the Final Four door. We knew we needed to toughen up our defense to have a chance and today we did that.”
Perpetual’s tight defense proved to be effective for the second time limiting Saint Benilde’s score to below-50 mark. In September 1, the Altas’ defense also limited Lyceum to mere 42 points.
Bright Akhuetie and Prince Eze contributed 11 and 10 points, respectively, for the Altas.
Forward Jonathan Grey posted 14 points and JJ Domingo had 12 points for the Blazers, whose win-loss record dropped to 3-12.
In the second game, the Mapua Cardinals cruised to an 81-76 win over the Arellano University Chiefs to stay undefeated in the second round with a six-game winning streak. The Cardinals’ record improved to 10 wins against five losses. The win secured Mapua’s entry into the Magic Four.
The 6’9 Nigerian center Allwell Oraeme notched 15 points and also matched his career-high 30 rebounds last week, when Mapua beat Letran 82-77. Mapua is now sharing the fourth spot with Arellano that is carrying an identical 10-5 win-loss record.
Exequiel Biteng, Justin Serrano and Mark Brana contributed 15, 14 and 11 points, respectively, for the Cardinals.
“What can I say, it was gratifying to see my players starting to really play hard particularly in the second half,” said assistant coach Ed Cordero, who temporarily took the place of suspended head coach Atoy Co who was serving a two-game suspension imposed by the NCAA.
“We were sluggish in the first half but we got rid of it in the second half.”