MAPUA continued its surprising resurgence in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, stunning University of Perpetual Help, 91-81, to find something to cheer about in another trying season on Wednesday at The Arena in San Juan.
Promising to just to provide the Altas a worthy challenge, the Cardinals surpassed their own expectations, showing they had what it takes to not just stand toe to toe, but pull off the upset altogether against a Final Four contender.
It was the third straight victory for the Cardinals, who, after being stuck at the bottom for so long, climbed to eighth spot with a 4-10 win-loss card.
The hard-luck Altas tried to make a late comeback, but fell short as they suffered their second successive loss and sixth overall in 14 games to remain in fifth spot.
“I think they took us for granted, but when they realized that we were there in the end fighting, it was too late for them,” a relived Cardinals coach Atoy Co said.
CJ Isit shone brightest anew with his steady playmaking and pesky defending down the stretch, as the lefty point guard finished with 21 points, 10 assists, three rebounds, and three steals. Fellow court general Leo Gabo knocked down crucial baskets that kept the Altas at bay to tally a game-high 23 markers.
The Altas were so unlucky that Earl Thompson suffered a cut on his right eyebrow after a collision of heads with fellow star Harold Arboleda that saw him saddled in the bench when his team was making a comeback.
But the development seemed to fire up the Las Pinas-based dribblers as they mounted on an 11-2 run that turned a five-point deficit into a temporary 71-67 lead after a three-point play by Justine Alano.
The Cardinals, however, showed composure in the endgame as they regained the lead after two charities from Isit that made it 72-71, then pounced on an Altas side that went on the penalty with still halfway to go. Worse, the Altas’ Arboleda fouled out with exactly in the five-minute mark.
MIT 91 – Gabo 23, Isit 21, Eriobu 13, Cantos 12, Biteng 9, Estrella 7, Saitanan 6, Tubiano 0, Villasenor 0
UPHSD 81 – Thompson 20, Baloria 19, Alano 14, Arboleda 11, Dagangon 8, Jolangcob 5, Ylagan 2, Pido 2, Oliveria 0, Dizon 0, Bantayan 0, Gallardo 0
Quarterscores: 28-26, 47-40, 65-60, 91-81