MAPUA rode Jonathan Banal’s career night to frustrate University of Perpetual Help, 74-71, on Monday and stay alive in the playoff race in the 88th NCAA men’s basketball tournament at The Arena in San Juan.
Banal, in his final year of eligibility with the Cardinals, could not have picked a better time to shine as he heated up in the second half to lift the Cardinals to their sixth win in 15 games.
Banal, who came in averaging just 6.1 points, fired a career-high 21 points, including 15 in the second half of the tightly-fought contest.
“Matagal ko na hinihintay sa kanya yan,” Mapua coach Chito Victolero said of Banal, son of Arellano coach Koy Banal.
The Altas dropped to 9-6, allowing Letran to grab a piece of third place. A Jose Rizal University win later in the day will forge a tie in the standings among the three teams.
After finding themselves at the losing end of several down-the-wire games in the past, the Cardinals finally pulled off this one, thanks to the hot hands of Banal, who fired four triples and was a perfect eight-of-eight from the stripe.
Mapua also got an unlikely boost from Mark Braña as the rookie big man scored five straight points to turn a 61-63 deficit into a 66-63 lead which the Cardinals never relinquished.
The Altas mounted a comeback and threatened at 70-71 after four straight points by Earl Thompson, but that was the closest the team could get.
Thompson, a sophomore swingman, later missed a potential game-tying triple as time expired.
“We always had a hard time finishing games, but I’m proud of my team for not faltering this time,” Victolero said.
MIT (74) -- J. Banal 21, Nimes 13, Ighalo 10, G. Banal 8, Brana 6, Magsigay 6, Eriobu 5, Saitanan 2, Estrella 2, Abad 1, Stevens 0, Parala 0
UPHSD (71) -- Vidal 25, Omorogbe 10, Allen 8, Paulino 7, Thompson 6, Elopre 6, Arboleda 5, Alano 4, Babayemi 0, Jolangcob 0
Quarterscores: 24-13, 30-36, 51-48, 74-71.
Follow the writer on Twitter: @KarloSacamos