Nueva Ecija withstood Zamboanga Family's Brand Sardines' final assault to prevail, 75-74, on Monday and move within a win of a sweep of the OKbet-MPBL (Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League) 4th Season Finals.
Just when the Rice Vanguards were cruising home, 69-57, with only four minutes to go, the Zamboanguenos unloaded an 11-point bomb behind two treys courtesy of twins Jayvee and Jaycee Marcelino at the Nueva Ecija Coliseum in Palayan City.
Counting their 81-75 victory over the Zamboanguenos in Game 1, the Rice Vanguards took a 2-0 lead and could wrap up the best-of-five National Finals with a win in Game 3 on December 9 at the Vitaliano Agan Coliseum in Zamboanga City.
It was another display of depth and cohesion for Nueva Ecija, which leaned on the third quarter explosion of Jay Collado and the gutsy plays of Michael Juico and the steady free throw shooting of Chris Bitoon and Hesed Gabo in the fourth quarter to frustrate Zamboanga, which surged ahead, 20-9, in the early going.
Juico scrambled for 12 points and grabbed 9 rebounds and 3 steals to earn Best Player honors.
Collado, who drilled in three triples to push Nueva Ecija ahead at 58-50 coming from a five-point deficit, wound up with 13 points and 6 rebounds, followed by Michael Mabulac with 10 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 steals.
Gabo, who canned his two charities with 7.7 seconds, ended up with 7 points and 3 assists.
Jaycee Marcelino, whose closing triple pegged the final count, finished with 26 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals for Zamboanga, which also got 12 points from Chito Jaime, 8 points from Chris Dumapig and 7 points and 4 assists from Jayvee Marcelino.