COLLEGE of St. Benilde sustained its blazing run in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, downing hapless Mapua, 74-62, on Saturday at The Arena in San Juan.
Clearly over their misery in the early part of the season, the Blazers rolled to their fifth win in six games.
Paolo Taha waxed hot in the second half, where he fired all but two of his game-high 25 points as the Blazers notched a second straight win to improve to a 5-6 win-loss card overall.
Benilde, once mired in the bottom of the standings after starting with five straight close losses, are now one of the league’s hottest teams as it moved just a half-game behind Jose Rizal University and San Sebastian for the last Final Four spot.
“I know we’re slowly inching up toward the top four (spots), but we’ll still work on our consistency,” Blazers coach Gabby Velasco said.
The Blazers also added to the woes of the Cardinals, who dropped their ninth straight game and 10th overall against a solitary win.
The Cardinals were trailing by just two points, 52-54, before Taha, the 22-year-old Filipino-Arabian swingman, fired six straight points in a stretch halfway through the quarter that keyed the Blazers’ breakaway.
The Blazers then maintained a double-digit cushion, which grew to as many as 14 points after a Jonathan Grey basket with under a minute to go.
Taha added 10 boards to complete a double-double effort, while Mark Romero provided ample support early on, tallying eight of his 13 points in the first half before foul trouble hobbled the Blazers’ skipper in the next two quarters.
Kenneth Ighalo registered a double-double of 20 points and 11 boards, but failed to get sufficient contribution from the other Cardinals.
“We did well defensively and I like that we’re now conscious on our defensive assignments toward the end,” Velasco said. “But there’s still a lot of improvement to be done.”
CSB (74) – Taha 25, Grey 14, Romero 13, Bartolo 8, Saavedra 4, Garcia 4, Sinco 2, Argamino 2, Deles 2, Jonson 0, Carlos 0, Ongteco 0, Mercado 0.
MIT (62) – Ighalo 20, Eriobu 12, Saitanan 11, Biteng 8, Isit 4, Braña 3, Magtoto 2, Cantos 2, Guzman 0, Gonzalez 0, Magsigay 0, Estrella 0.
Quarterscores: 14-10; 28-26; 50-47; 74-62.