ARELLANO University rode the torrid shooting of Zach Nicholls down the stretch to weather a late storm by Mapua and score a 65-59 victory on Thursday night in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament at The Arena in San Juan.
Cold in his first three games where he played a total of 24 minutes, Nicholls waxed hot against the Cardinals as the rookie Filipino-Canadian swingman buried two of his five triples in the payoff period, where the Chiefs held off a late Mapua rally to secure their second victory in four games.
The Chiefs now have the same record as the day’s other winner, Jose Rizal University, and San Sebastian.
“I just found my rhythm after hitting my first shot,” said Nicholls, a streak shooter who traces his Filipino roots to Tarlac. “I felt good today and my teammates did a good job of giving me the extra pass.”
Nicholls finished with a game-high 18 points, half of them in the payoff period, in 26 minutes of play.
Nard Pinto, who had been struggling in his first three games, showed signs of improvement as he was a rebound short of a double-double with 10 points.
The star guard from Davao made just three of 15 shots, but one of those was a crucial fadeaway jumper over the outstretched arms of Kenneth Ighalo that gave the Chiefs a 61-57 cushion with 49.3 seconds remaining.
Chiefs coach Koy Banal defended the early performance of the sophomore guard, believing his play against the Cardinals is the start of something better.
“We do not believe that (sophomore jinx),” said Banal, who also drew a solid showing from sophomore big man Nico Bannga. “I believe in the ability of my players. I’m hoping that would release the pressure and tightness in (Pinto)."
Trailing 51-44 midway through the fourth quarter, the Cardinals banked on an 11-3 run capped by a Darrel Magsigay top-of-the-key triple to give them the lead at 57-54.
Nicholls, however, retaliated with his own trey that proved to be the go-ahead basket.
The Cardinals suffered a second straight loss and dropped to 1-3.
Arellano (65) – Nicholls 18, Pinto 10, Forrester 7, Jalalon 6, Hernandez 6, Salcedo 5, Caperal 5, Bangga 4, Agovida 4, Gumaru 0, Enriquez 0, Cadavis 0, Serjue 0
Mapua (59) – Ighalo 14, Eriobu 9, Magsigay 9, Braña 9, Saitanan 7, Estrella 6, Isit 4, Cantos 1, Gabo 0, Layug 0
Quarterscores: 20-10, 32-28, 46-41, 65-59