EMILIO Aguinaldo College ended its first-round campaign of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament on a bright note, turning back a hapless Mapua side, 89-80, on Thursday night at The Arena in San Juan.
The Generals delivered when it mattered, turning to Cedric Happi, Jolas Paguia, Igee King, and John Tayongtong in the payoff period to stretch their winning streak to three games and improve to 4-5 (win-loss).
“This is the best first round of EAC since joining the league,” said Generals coach Gerry Esplana, whose squad is in its fourth year in the country’s oldest collegiate league. “Gusto ko yung position kong ganito going into the second round.”
With the victory, the Generals climbed to fifth place in a tie with San Sebastian and just one game behind fourth-running Jose Rizal University, leaving them firmly in the running for a Final Four spot.
The Generals also added to the misery of the Cardinals, who lost for the seventh straight time to remain at the cellar with a 1-8 slate overall.
The Cardinals suffered a blow in the first quarter with four minutes and 19 seconds to go when top big man Jessie Saitanan was ejected with a disqualifying foul for hitting Paguia with an elbow to the face with the Cardinals leading 17-9.
Saitanan is expected to be suspended when the Cardinals return to action on Saturday in the opening of the second round against front-running Letran.
The Cardinals were still ahead, 70-69, after a Mark Braña jumper at the 6:40 mark of the fourth quarter, before the Generals turned the game around and built their own double-digit lead at 80-70 after a Paguia triple with 3:50 remaining.
The Generals never looked back from there as Tayongtong fired all but one of his eight markers in the fourth, where Happi had six, and Paguia and King each had five markers.
“It’s a game of spurts,” Esplana explained. “Suddenly, Mapua had a run and even led, but my boys settled down and clamped down on defense.”
EAC (89) – Paguia 18, Happi 17, King 17, Jamon 11, Munsayac 9, Tayongtong 8, Arquero 5, Morada 4, Monteclaro 0, Castro 0, Hiole Manga 0
Mapua (80) – Magsigay 21, Ighalo 21, Braña 17, Isit 12, Gonzalez 4, Estrella 4, Biteng 1, Saitanan 0, Layug 0, Cantos 0
Quarterscores: 17-23, 43-40, 63-63, 89-80