The giant-killers struck anew.
A resilient Lyceum side came through in the clutch to topple Letran, 80-76, on Thursday night and breathe new life to its bid for respectability in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament at The Arena in San Juan.
Rookie guard Jeremiah Taladua rose to occasion, pulling the necessary stops and scoring the marginal basket to lift the Pirates, who caught their second big scalp after stunning defending champion San Beda, 70-66, in the first round.
The Pirates, who improved to a 4-7 win-loss card overall and surpassed their win total last season, dealt the Knights just their second loss in 11 games.
“It was all hustle,” said versatile forward Aziz Mbomiko, who spearheaded the Pirates’ attack with 22 points, seven boards, and five steals.
“We didn’t want to lose this game because the first time we were about to beat them, but our free throws were bad,” the Nigerian import added, referring to the Pirates’ 53-61 loss to the Knights in the first round.
The Pirates’ ultimate objective this season remains to exceed their seven wins they put up in their maiden season in the country’s oldest collegiate league three years ago.
“We have three more games to win,” Pirates coach Bonnie Tan said.
While Mbomiko delivered, it was the seldom-used Taladua who stood out. Inserted only for defensive purposes, the Cavite native shone offensively as well as he came up with a steal that translated to his own right-wing triple that gave the Pirates the lead for good at 78-76 with 18.1 seconds remaining.
Taladua, who finished with just five points in 12 minutes of play, then scored the rest of his points on a breakaway insurance layup after the Knights failed to retaliate, capping off a remarkable comeback from a double-digit deficit.
Trailing, 45-58, with 2:24 to go in the third canto, the Pirates banked on a suffocating defense to establish a 22-2 scoring salvo bridging the last two quarters to turn the game around.
“Yun talaga ang heart and soul ng team—yung pressure defense,” Tan said.
The Knights fought back and regained the lead at 76-75 after two charities by Raymond Almazan, time down to 52.8 seconds, before the stage was set for the heroics of Taladua, who also shackled Letran’s top rookie, Rey Nambatac, who wound up with just three points on 1-of-6 shooting in 16 minutes.
LPU (80) – Mbomiko 22, Zamora 18, Ko 10, Azores 9, Baltazar 5, Taladua 5, Lesmoras 4, Ambohot 3, Mendoza 2, Lacastesantos 2, Francisco 0
CSJL (76) – Almazan 21, Cruz 17, Racal 9, Ruaya 6, Gabawan 6, Publico 5, Belorio 4, Nambatac 3, Buenaflor 3, Castro 2, Po 0, Luib 0
Quarterscores: 19-18, 31-36, 56-58, 80-76