JOHN Pinto buried crucial free throws in the endgame as Cagayan Valley stunned NLEX, 78-74, on Tuesday in the PBA D-League Aspirants Cup at The Arena in San Juan.
Pinto hit two charities for the Rising Suns with 53.9 seconds left to break a 74-74 tie before putting the finishing touches to the win with two more free throws with 5.8 ticks left. Pinto scored eight of his 11 points in the fourth quarter.
It was the Rising Suns’ first win over the Road Warriors since joining the league two years ago.
More important, Cagayan Valley notched its ninth win in 13 outings to enter the quarterfinal round on a high note.
NLEX, which missed the services of Garvo Lanete due to a shoulder injury, remains in second place with a 10-2 win-loss card. Big Chill (11-1) only needs to win against Hog’s Breath Café on Thursday to gain the top-seed entering the semifinals.
Though the Rising Suns had already secured the fifth spot in the quarterfinals, Cagayan Valley assistant coach Raymond Valenzona said the team was determined to beat NLEX after suffering a disappointing loss to also-ran Cebuana Lhuillier last week.
“Nasa No. 5 na talaga kami, pero gusto naming manalo this game dahil natalo kami sa last game. Malaking bagay ito para sa next round,” said Valenzona.
Adrian Celada finished with 18 points, while Kenneth Ighalo added 14 points for the Rising Suns, who took a 38-34 halftime lead. Mark Cruz chipped in with 13 points.
The Rising Suns started the fourth with a 12-4 burst for a 69-61 advantage. Kenneth Ighalo hit a three and Michael Mabulac converted two free throws for a 74-66 lead with 3:43 left in the fourth.
Down by eight, NLEX came storming back to tie the game on a lay-up by Kevin Alas with 1:07 left, 74-74. But the Road Warriors faltered in the end with Ronald Pascual, a usually-reliable free throw shooter, missing two charities that would have forced overtime with 7.7 seconds to play.
Lanete sprained his right shoulder last week against Derulo Accelero.
Ola Adeogun had 13 points and 10 rebounds for NLEX, while Jake Pascual added 13 points.
The Road Warriors opened the third with a 9-0 run to grab the lead, 43-38, but the Rising Suns were able to catch up.
Cagayan Valley (78) – Celada 18, Ighalo 14, Cruz 13, Melano 12, Pinto 11, Mabulac 6, Bringas 2, Foronda 2, Trollano 0, Jamito 0, Collado 0.
NLEX (74) – Adeogun 13, J. Pascual 13, Alas 10, Ganuelas 8, Raymundo 7, Hermida 6, R. Pascual 5, Amer 4, Dela Cruz 2, Koga 2, K. Pascual 0, Long 0.
Quarterscores: 19-20; 38-34; 57-57; 78-74.