Under-strength Emilio Aguinaldo College averted a late meltdown to hold off upset-conscious St. Benilde on Tuesday 65-62 in a non-bearing match in the 92nd NCAA seniors basketball tournament at The Arena in San Juan City.
Playing without suspended forward Sidney Onwubere and injured guard Francis Munsayac, the Generals nearly blew a nine-point cushion in the last two minutes, but veteran Jorem Morada came through with clutch points to extend the Blazers’ season-long misery.
Morada finished with a game-high 18 points, including a pair of insurance free throws with 17.1 seconds left, while import Hamadou Laminou collected 12 markers, six rebounds and five assists as EAC notched its sixth win against 11 losses, tying idle Lyceum at the eighth spot.
Generals coach Ariel Sison, however, admitted his wards clearly struggled to deal with the absence of Onwubere, a usual double-double machine, and Munsayac.
“Napakalaking kawalan nila (Onwubere and Munsayac). Kitang kita niyo naman hirap na hirap kami,” he stressed, aware his wards needed to overcome a tense finish despite leading by as many as 62-53 with 2:14 left to play.
Carlo Young tallied a team-high 14 points but missed a potential game-tying triple at the buzzer, sending the Blazers to their 17th straight loss and moving on the verge of finishing without a single win this season.
“Na-pressure rin siguro ang mag bata kanina kasi hindi pwedeng manalo ang Benilde lalo sa amin pa. Hindi kami pwedeng magbigay ng unang panalo nila. Kinakabahan nga kami kanina,” added Sison.
Just when the Generals thought they have already secured the victory, the Blazers came charging back by scoring nine of the next ten points, capped by Christian Fajarito’s lay-up off a steal against Morada, pulling them within 62-63, time down to just 26.6 seconds.
Morada, pre-emptively fouled by St. Benilde’s Yankie Haruna, redeemed himself by scoring a pair of points from the 15-foot line, keeping the Generals in control.
“Akala namin tapos na ang game. Hindi pwedeng ganun. Kailangan solid kami until mag-buzzer,” stressed Sison. – Jerome Lagunzad
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EAC (65) – Morada 18, Laminou 12, Diego 9, Guzman 9, King 5, General 5, Corilla 3, Mendoza 2, Pascua 2, Neri 0, Serrano 0, Aguas 0
CSB (62) – Young 14, Leutcheu 12, Dixon 10, Fajarito 8, Haruna 7, Suarez 4, Domingo 3, Castor 2, Belgica 2, Pasamante 0, Pajarillaga 0, Saavedra 0
Quarterscores: 15-16, 33-29, 49-42, 65-62.