MARK Cruz led Tanduay's late-game surge as the Rhum Masters hacked out a 73-69 win over Jose Rizal University on Tuesday in the PBA D-League Aspirants' Cup at the JCSGO Gym.
Cruz finished with 20 markers, including 12 of the Rhum Masters' last 14 points.
He also had seven assists and two rebounds in a sterling performance that helped the Rhum Masters avoid falling into the fifth and sixth spots.
The Rhum Masters claimed the fourth spot with a 6-3 win-loss record and will enjoy a twice-to-beat edge against AMA Online Education.
"I live and die by him," said Tanduay coach Lawrence Chongson of Cruz.
"Maybe it's also a good thing that I don't have other playmakers and his minutes are getting extended."
Jaymo Eguilos had 14 points and nine rebounds for Tanduay, his best moment coming in the final two minutes with a putback that gave the the Rhum Masters a 69-65 lead.
Jerard Bautista, Joseph Marquez, Tey Teodoro each had 15 points for the Heavy Bombers, who facet the Cafe France Bakers.
The quarterfinals begin on Thursday at the Ynares Sports Arena in Pasig.
Tanduay 73 - Cruz 20, Eguilos 14, Gaco 12, Quinto 11, Sanga 10, Santos 5, Sollano 1, Stevens 0, Varilla 0, Vigil 0, Villamor 0.
JRU 69 - Bautista 15, Marquez 15, Teodoro 15, Amboludto 9, Grospe 8, Poutouochi 5, Lasquety 2, Dela Virgen 0, Publico 0.
Quarterscores: 16-14; 29-35; 56-57; 73-69.