EMILIO Aguinaldo College bucked a third-quarter meltdown to hack out a 78-68 victory over Jose Rizal University on Saturday and remain firmly in the hunt for the last Final Four spot in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament at The Arena in San Juan.
The hot-starting Generals squandered a sizeable lead, but came through when it mattered most as they moved above .500 with a ninth win in 17 games to move a half-game behind fourth-running San Sebastian.
The Stags however, kept their distance from the Generals after beating University of Perpetual Help Altas also on Saturday, 71-65.
The victory also assured the Generals their best mark since they joined the country’s oldest collegiate in 2009. They finished with an 8-10 win-loss slate last season.
“Achievement na sa amin ’to,” Generals coach Gerry Esplana said.
Cedric Happi Noube and Jan Jamon shone early, but it was Jolas Paguia who punched in the key baskets down the stretch — six of his 11 points to be exact — as he underscored his status as the Generals’ stabilizer.
Happi Noube, the Cameroonian slotman, registered a double-double as early as the first half, while Jamon torched the Bombers with his outside sniping as the duo helped the Generals establish a 26-10 lead late in the first quarter.
The Bombers, who lost for the 11th time in 17 games, made things interesting at the start of the second half when they rallied to erase the double-digit deficit and even took the lead at one point.
“We played to protect the lead, but we went back to being aggressive on defense and we made stops,” Esplana said.
The Generals fired 10 unanswered points to start the game and established a lead that grew to as many as 16 points late in the first quarter. After maintaining a double-digit lead in the second quarter, the Generals saw the Bombers threaten early in the third quarter when the latter went on a run and took the lead, 47-46, after a Philip Paniamogan triple.
Happi already registered a double-double in the first half, when he compiled 14 points and 11 boards. The Cameroonian finished with 18.
EAC (78) – Happi 18, Jamon 15, Arquero 12, Paguia 11, Tayongtong 11, Castro 7, Onwubere 2, Morada 2, Saludo 0, Hiole Manga 0, King 0, Munsayac 0.
JRU (68) – Mabulac 19, Paniamogan 14, Lasquety 9, Dela Paz 7, Abanto 6, Salaveria 5, Grospe 4, Sanchez 4, Benavides 0.
Quarterscores: 27-16; 44-32; 62-51; 78-68.