JOSE Rizal University leaned on its veterans in the end game to turn back College of St. Benilde, 62-56, on Monday night and forge a three-way tie in third place in the 88th NCAA men’s basketball tournament at The Arena in San Juan.
Decoy Lopez teamed up with Nate Matute as the two seniors delivered the key baskets down the stretch for the Bombers, who hiked their record to 9-6 in a tie with University of Perpetual Help and Letran.
Lopez registered 16 points, nine rebounds, three assists, and two steals, while Matute scored seven of his nine markers in the last five minutes to help the Bombers hold on for the victory that snapped a three-game skid.
Rookie big man Michael Mabulac also shone with a double-double of 16 points, including the last four of the game, and 11 boards.
“Sinabi ko sa kanila na wag muna isipin ang Final Four,” said Lopez, who’s in his final playing year with the team along with five others. “Ang isipin lang na baka last four games na namin ito para sa school kaya kailangang ibigay na lahat.”
Lopez’s message also rubbed off on fellow senior and third-string point guard Romnick Mendoza as he ably filled in for an undermanned Jose Rizal backcourt by dishing off seven assists and scored six points in 30 minutes as a starter.
Starting playmaker Alex Alamario is done for the season after being diagnosed with a rheumatic heart ailment, while Ivan Camasura was out with dengue fever.
The also-ran Blazers still led by two points at the half, but failed to sustain their push and fell to 4-11.
With the Bombers protecting a precarious 52-51 lead halfway through the payoff period, Matute regained his shooting touch and score on a long two, a triple, and two free throws for the insurance points for the team.
“Malaking bagay yung talo ng Perpetual (earlier),” Bombers coach Vergel Meneses said. “Pero sabi ko sa kanila not to worry about the other teams and just play and enjoy their games.”
JRU (62) -- Lopez 16, Mabulac 16, Matute 9, Mendoza 6, Villarias 6, Dela Paz 6, Maconocido 3, Monserat 0, Salaveria 0, Porter 0, Carampil 0, Munez 0
CSB (56) -- Lastimosa 15, Romero 10, Tan 9, Bartolo 8, Grey 7, Taha 7, Altamirano 0, Dela Paz 0, Tolentino 0, Sinco 0, Ongteco 0, Maconocido 0
Quarterscores: 8-10, 24-26, 44-42, 62-56