UNIVERSITY of Perpetual Help avoided a late meltdown to hack out a 68-64 victory over College of St. Benilde on Thursday to keep in step with the leaders in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament at The Arena in San Juan.
The Altas squandered a late seven-point lead, but held on thanks to the free throws of Juneric Baloria and Earl Thompson as they got back on the winning track after a shock 68-70 loss to Emilio Aguinaldo College in their last game.
The Altas thus claimed a ninth victory in 12 games to move just a half-game behind frontrunners Letran and San Beda, while dealing the Blazers their seventh defeat in 12 games.
It was another close loss for the Blazers, who scored nine unanswered points capped by a Jonathan Grey layup, to knot the count at 64, before Baloria and Thompson converted their charities to rescue the Altas.
“Nagmadali kami, buti na lang sinuwerte pa,” Altas coach Aric del Rosario said.
Baloria tallied a team-high 18 points and also shone defensively against Jonathan Grey, who failed to score in double digits and form a lethal triple threat with Paolo Taha and Mark Romero.
“Pag na-stop namin yung isa sa kanila, mas maganda talaga chances namin,” said Baloria, the league's top Rookie of the Year candidate.
Nicholas Omorogbe spearheaded the Altas’ early attack in the fourth quarter where the Nigerian forward fired half of his 14 points.
“The coach did a good job of bringing me off the bench so I could finish strong because he noticed the last game I wasn’t really fit.”
Trailing, 64-65, the Blazers had several chances to gain the lead, but Fons Saavedra stepped out of bounds in a late play while RJ Argamino missed an open triple.
Perpetual (68) – Baloria 18, Arboleda 15, Omorogbe 14, Alano 11, Thompson 6, Ylagan 2, Elopre 2, Oliveria 0, Dizon 0, Jolangcob 0.
St. Benilde (64) – Taha 17, Romero 12, Bartolo 11, Garcia 7, Saavedra 5, Argamino 5, Grey 5, Ongteco 2, Sinco 0.
Quarterscores: 21-12, 30-28, 52-50, 68-64