USC Warriors ride clutch heroics of rookie John Reel Saycon anew in slim win vs SWU Cobras
John Reel Saycon saved the win for the USC Warriors with a deflection on a potential game-winner from SWU's Arnel Molina. Ron Tolin

CEBU CITY – Rookie forward John Reel Saycon is quickly proving he is the real deal as he came up with huge plays on both ends of the floor to lift the University of San Carlos Warriors over the Southwestern University-Phinma Cobras, 56-55, in the 17th Cesafi men’s basketball tournament on Tuesday night at the New Cebu Coliseum. 

Just days after hitting a miraculous buzzer-beater that forced overtime against the University of Cebu, Saycon was back at it again as he nailed a left-handed lay-up that put them in front for good before deflecting SWU-Phinma forward Arnel Molina’s potential game-winning jumper to help seal USC’s fifth straight victory. 

Lucky Ecarma led the Warriors with 16 points, spiked by four three-pointers before fouling out late in the fourth. Saycon, a recruit from Tanjay, Negros Oriental, added nine points, three boards and a steal. 

Already playing without Jun Luz, who was serving a one-game suspension, the Cobras soon lost starting center Reeve Ugsang who suffered a sprained ankle. In spite of that, SWU-Phinma found themselves in the driver’s seat, 53-50, after a teardrop shot from former Adamson guard Gerald Fernandez with 2:09 remaining. 

But USC struck back and surged in front, 54-53, after a putback by Julius Cadavis and a floater by Victor Rabat, time down to 1:20. 

SWU-Phinma’s William Polican knotted the count for the last time at 54-all after splitting his free-throws but Saycon answered right back on the other end, evading Cobras big man Edmundo Bayhunan with a spin move before banking in left-handed layup. 

Shaquille Imperial pulled SWU-Phinma to within 55-56 by making one of two from the line and the Cobras gained one last shot at tying or taking the lead after USC forward Kent Cabanog’s baseline jumper was off. But Saycon foiled the Cobras’ plans as he deflected Molina’s midrange jumper to put the win in the bag for these surprising Warriors. 

Imperial led SWU-Phinma with 14 points but shot just 5-of-16 from the field. Bayhunan stepped up in Ugsang’s absence with 13 points and nine boards but also contributed heavily to SWU-Phinma’s dismal 12-29 shooting from the charity stripe by missing eight of his 11 tries there.

The Cobras now find themselves in unfamiliar territory, dropping to the bottom of the standings at 1-3. 

The Scores:

USC (56) Ecarma 16, Saycon 9, Mangubat 7, Trangia 6, Cabanog 6, Cadavis 4, Tan 3, Oleodo 3, Rabat 2

SWU-Phinma (55) Imperial 14, Bayhunan 13, Fernandez 7, Polican 6, Molina 6, Delos Santos 6, Racho 3,


Quarterscores: 12-14, 30-26, 42-41, 56-55 

Follow the writer on Twitter: @ForgetAboutJay