AS he crossed the half-court line with the game tied and with less than 20 seconds to go, John Pinto made the sign of the cross as he plotted Arellano’s shot at a game-winning play.
Showing maturity and poise, the rookie dribbled to his left, created enough space between him and defender Kenneth Ighalo then launched the jumper that lifted the Chiefs past Mapua, 59-57, on Thursday night in the 88th NCAA men’s basketball competition at The Arena in San Juan.
The 21-year-old freshman sensation from Davao failed to finish in double figures in scoring but his last designated shot proved enough to help the Chiefs stay alive in the playoff race.
“Wala na kaming ibang pupuntahan kundi siya kasi siya talaga nagbubukas ng pinto sa amin,” Chiefs coach Koy Banal said, the pun intended of course.
With the victory, the Chiefs tied their victims in sixth place with similar 5-8 records and avenged their 49-68 loss to the Cardinals in the first round.
James Forrester and Rocky Acidre also delivered for the Chiefs with 19 and 13 points, respectively.
Josan Nimes, who paced the Cardinals with 17 points, tied the game twice for the Intramuros-based squad, the last at 57-all, after his floater with 20.3 seconds remaining. But Mike Parala missed a desperation jumper at the buzzer that would’ve sent the game into overtime at the buzzer.
Ironically, the Chiefs even shot a worse percentage (31%) from the field than the Cardinals (37%) in the low-scoring affair, but they were able to establish a sizeable lead for the most part of the game owing to their defense.
“Nag-focus kami on the defensive end. We were able to contain their scorers especially Jonathan,” Banal said, jokingly emphasizing his son’s output. The younger Banal was held to just two points in 15 minutes after scoring 16, including four triples, in their first meeting.
AU 59 – Forrester 19, Acidre 13, Bangga 9, Pinto 8, Hernandez 5, Caperal 3, Zulueta 2, Cadavis 0, Salcedo 0
MIT 57 – Nimes 17, Parala 13, Eriobu 8, Ighalo 7, G.Banal 5, Saitanan 5, J. Banal 2, Stevens 0, Cantos 0, Brana 0, Estrella 0
Quarterscores: 13-15, 28-26, 43-38, 59-57