SAN Sebastian’s offense delivered when it mattered to turn back College of St. Benilde, 69-62, on Thursday and complete the Final Four cast in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament at The Arena in San Juan.
The Golden Stags survived a third-quarter explosion from the Blazers’ Mark Romero and leaned on impressive rookies CJ Perez, Jamil Ortuoste, Leo de Vera, and Ranimark Tano down the stretch as they finished the elimination round with their 11th win in 18 games.
"It's a very good experience for us for a very young team that wasn't given a chance at the start of the season, we just want to enjoy the moment and seize the opportunity," said Stags coach Topex Robinson, whose team caught the last bus to the semifinals after San Beda, Letran, and Perpetual Help booked their respective tickets earlier.
It will be the fifth straight Final Four appearance for the Stags, whose entry was made all the more remarkable after they lost the 'Pinatubo Trio' of Calvin Abueva, Ian Sangalang, and Ronald Pascual last year.
"I just told them at the start of the season everybody was talking about losing the lineup that we had, I just told these guys that we want to prove them wrong,” Robinson said.
The Stags, who eliminated fifth-running Emilio Aguinaldo College (9-8) from contention, can even climb to the third spot as they have forged a tie and a playoff with the struggling Atlas.
The playoff is set 4 p.m. Tuesday at the same venue.
The Stags led most of the way, but saw the Blazers threaten in the third quarter behind Romero, who fired 18 of his game-high 23 points in the third quarter to trim the gap to a solitary point heading into the fourth quarter.
But the Stags’ rookies took over in the payoff period to restore order as the Blazers dropped a fifth straight game and 13th overall against only five wins this season.
Perez had another all-around effort of 17 points, eight boards, and four assists, while Leo de Vera chipped in a double-double of 15 boards and 10 points, the same scoring output as Ortuoste and Tano.
SSC (69) – Perez 17, De Vera 10, Ortouste 10, Tano 10, dela Cruz 9, Guinto 7, Vergara 4, Balucanag 2, Rebollos 0, Gusi 0, Trinidad 0, Aquino 0.
CSB (62) – Romero 23, Grey 14, Taha 11, Jonson 4, Ongtenco 3, Bartolo 3, Sinco 2, Garcia 2, Nayve 0, Saavedra 0, Argamino 0.
Quarterscores: 17-9; 31-22; 47-46; 69-62.