A depleted Lyceum side overcame a furious fightback by Arellano to stun the Chiefs with a pulsating 101-96 victory on Wednesday in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament at The Arena in San Juan.
Looking to salvage dignity at the end of another trying season, the Pirates built a sizeable double-digit cushion, but had to survive a late rally by the erstwhile league-leading Chiefs to pull off the upset.
The Pirates ended the season with only their seventh win in 18 games, one victory shy of their best finish in the league since joining in 2011.
The result also forced a playoff for the top spot between the Chiefs, who finished the elimination round with a 13-5 card, and San Beda on Friday.
Joseph Gabayni, the top Rookie of the Year candidate, carried most of the load for the Pirates with 22 points and 17 boards.
“I just told them this may be your last game in the NCAA,” Pirates coach Bonnie Tan said as Lyceum is in its last probationary year seeking to become a regular member next season. “Win or lose, just play your best.”
His roster decimated by injuries and players under disciplinary action, Tan squeezed the best out of a tight eight-man rotation, resulting in six players scoring in double figures.
The Pirates caught the Chiefs flat-footed at the start and established leads that grew to as many as 21 points, 80-59, early in the fourth quarter.
What seemed an insurmountable gap almost disappeared in a flash as the Chiefs leaned on Jiovani Jalalon, who spearheaded a suffocating full-court defense that translated into instant offense.
Two free throws by the cat-quick guard, who conspired with Keith Agovida, completed a 37-18 salvo that trimmed the deficit to just two points, 96-98 with 29.1 seconds left, before the Pirates held on.
LPU 101 – Gabayni 22, Zamora 17, Taladua 16, Malabanan 14, Baltazar 12, Bulawan 10, Soliman 5, Mbida 5
AU 96 – Jalalon 17, Holts 16, Agovida 16, Ciriacruz 15, Nicholls 14, Pinto 7, Enriquez 4, Gumaru 3, Salcedo 2, Palma 2, Bangga 0, Caperal 0, Ortega 0, Cadavis 0
Quarterscores: 29-20, 51-42, 78-59, 101-96