Title contender Mapua flirted with disaster before eking out a 75-64 victory over upset-conscious Lyceum on Tuesday afternoon to provisionally claim the solo lead in the 92nd NCAA seniors basketball tourney at The Arena in San Juan.
Coming off a 10-day break, the Cardinals got their usual game going in the third frame where they led by as many as 18 points at 58-40 but still needed timely buckets and big defensive stops in the stretch to hold off the Pirates’ searing fightback that went for naught anew.
“Pina-nerbiyos pa ako,” said Mapua coach Atoy Co, heaving a big sigh of relief as his wards notched their third straight victory but not after allowing Lyceum to come within six points repeatedly in the final frame.
Reigning league MVP Allwell Oraeme dominated anew with game-highs of 22 points and 25 rebounds—his third straight double-double—on top of five blocks and four assists while local guards Carlos Isit and Exequiel Biteng provided the ample support by tallying 15 markers each for the Cardinals.
Co, however, appeared far from satisfied. “The team took it lightly when we led by that much. We started to lag in defense. Maybe Allwell got tired too,” he said.
Lyceum import Mike Nzeusseu tried his best to hold his ground against the taller Oraeme, tallying 16 points and 19 rebounds, while two other teammates scored in double figures but the Pirates struggled to get themselves out of an 18-point hole, no thanks to their lackluster showing during the Cardinals’ decisive attack.
Biteng found his range in the third, firing away 10 points spiked by a pair of triples, while Oraeme anchored their defensive stance, allowing the Pirates to make just a lone field goal—courtesy of Adrian Alban—while outscoring them 20-7.
“Luckily Biteng stepped up,” said Co. “I still have problems with my shooters. They still could not connect (consistently). And that’s what we were lacking in the previous two games.”
While he described their long preparation as a sort of a “torture,” Co said he’s glad to see the Cardinals get back at the Pirates who defeated them twice in the pre-season.
“That’s what I’m trying to emphasize every time: play defense. Maski hindi kami nakaka score when our defense is working good, they can’t score too,” he said. “It’s very hard to play a team that lost their first two matches. They tried their best to beat us. That’s why we have to be more intense and more focused.” – By Jerome Lagunzad
MAPUA (75) – Oraeme 22, Isit 16, Biteng 15, Estrella 6, Menina 6, Eriobu 4, Serrano 4, Victoria 2, Magboo 0, Orquina 0, Raflores 0
LYCEUM (64) – Nzeusseu 16, Ayaay 15, Serafico 11, Baltazar 7, Alban 6, Alanes 3, Caduyac 3, Bulawan 2, Malabanan 1, Rubite 0, Soliman 0, Magbuhos 0
Quarterscores: 20-22, 38-35, 58-42, 75-64.