AS he entered the press room for the post-game interview, Atoy Co let out a shriek that reverberated around the working area full of reporters trying to beat their deadline.
His actions were understandable.
The PBA legend registered his first victory at the helm of Mapua in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament following the Cardinals’ pulsating 104-99 double-overtime victory over San Sebastian on Monday at The Arena in San Juan.
“I’m so happy. The pressure is really on me,” said an obviously relieved Co, a former champion coach in the defunct Philippine Amateur Basketball League (PABL) who was hired to bring the same winning tradition to his alma mater.
“But I’m trying to correct that impression because basketball is a development.”
The Cardinals finally gifted their new coach his first victory after they fought back from a huge second half deficit before showing steely resolve in the endgame.
Joseph Eriobu and Mark Braña delivered the key baskets down the stretch for the resilient Cardinals, who rallied from a 20-point deficit in a game that was nearly similar to their opening game against Jose Rizal University where they also climbed back from a huge hole before coming short in the payoff period.
Eriobu finished with a career-high 30 points and 11 rebounds, while Braña fired eight of his 15 points in the second overtime where the Cardinals finished off the Stags.
“We always start slow,” Co admitted. “I always remind them na kailangan focused tayo and as long as alam natin `yung sistema, we should not be scared of any team.”
It was skipper Kenneth Ighalo who fueled the Cardinals' third-quarter rally that saw them erase a 57-37 deficit midway through the period where the senior swingman fired eight of his 21 points that went with 16 boards and three assists.
“Na-experience na namin `yung last game na humabol kami tapos na-satisfy kami nung fourth. This time, sinabi ko sa teammates ko, wag na wag kaming mag-re-relax. Wag muna mag-celebrate hangga’t hindi pa namin naririnig ang final buzzer,” said Ighalo, who’s in his last year with the team.
Jessie Saitanan also shone for the Cardinals as the starting center tallied a double-double of 15 points and 17 boards before coming out with cramps.
Jovit dela Cruz and CJ Perez registered solid numbers with 24 points apiece in a losing effort for the Stags, who lost for the second time in three games.
Mapua (104) – Eriobu 30, Ighalo 21, Braña 15, Saitanan 15, Isit 10, Magsigay 4, Estrella 4, Cantos 3, Biteng 2, Layug 0.
San Sebastian (99) – Dela Cruz 24, Perez 24, De Vera 17, Ortuoste 14, Guinto 8, Tano 6, Gusi 5, Magno 1, Rebollos 0, Vergara 0, Aquino 0.
Quarterscores: 12-27; 31-45; 55-57; 76-76 (reg); 88-88 (1st OT), 104-99.