AS the final buzzer sounded, Jamil Ortuoste shook hands with the first opponent he found — and it turned out to be fellow rookie sensation Juneric Baloria.
It signaled the end of another matchup between two of the top freshmen in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament that once again lived up to expectations on Saturday night.
Again, it was San Sebastian’s Ortuoste who got the better of Rookie of the Year award frontrunner Baloria and University of Perpetual Help, not only statistically, but also as a team as the Golden Stags emerged the victor with a 71-65 decision at The Arena in San Juan.
The 21-year-old Ortuoste almost singlehandedly rallied the Stags from a late deficit, scoring his team’s last eight points in the final two minutes, including a contested three-pointer from way beyond rainbow territory that sent the San Sebastian gallery into a frenzy.
The Stags thus swept their elimination-round head-to-head matchup with the Altas, having also eked out a thrilling 78-77 overtime win in the first round.
Ortuoste, who finished with 19 points on 6-of-8 shooting, four rebounds, and one assist in 30 minutes, played down his own matchup with Baloria, who wound up 16 points but missed 14 of 19 shots from the field in 37 minutes of play. He did have seven rebounds and two blocks.
“Hindi namin iniisip yung (individual) matchup namin. Ang preparation namin is for the team, kung paano kami mananalo as a team, hindi sa isa o dalawang player lang,” he said.
The pride of Antipolo still believes the Rookie of the Year award is for the 23-year-old Baloria to lose.
“Magaling si Juneric. Pareho lang namin ginagawa yung role namin sa team,” Ortuoste said. “Hindi ko iniisip makakuha ng individual na award. Hindi ko din alam na may chance pala ako dun.”
Unlike in the UAAP, where only greenhorns straight from high school are eligible to win the ROY award, the NCAA hands out the top individual rookie plum to any league newcomer.
“Ma-achieve lang namin yung Final Four, yun na ang greatest achievement ko this year,” said Ortuoste, whose team (10-7) can clinch the last semifinal berth outright with a win in their last game. “Kung ano man dumating sa akin, blessing yun from God.”