SAN Sebastian's unheralded but impressive rookies continued to make a name for themselves as the Stags asserted their mastery over University of Perpetual Help on Tuesday to claim the No. 3 seeding in the NCAA men’s basketball Final Four.
Behind CJ Perez, Brad Guinto, Jamil Ortuoste, Gio Vergara, and veteran Jovit del Cruz, the Stags eked out an 81-71 victory in their playoff with the Altas at The Arena in San Juan.
Perez, Guinto, Ortuoste, and Dela Cruz delivered their usual numbers, but the Stags also drew significant contributions from the seldom-used Vergara in defeating the Altas for the third straight time this season.
“Every game we play is a blessing for us,” said Stags coach Topex Robinson, whose team finished the elimination round tied with the Altas with an 11-7 win-loss slate. “As much as we want to celebrate, we need to improve more because we’re going to be up against a tougher team.”
The Stags thus arranged a semifinal showdown on November 7 with second-seeded Letran, while relegating the Altas to fourth place in a matchup with defending champion San Beda.
A crucial scenario however, looms depending on how the recent “larong labas” allegation involving Ryusei Koga of San Beda will pan out.
If the Lions guard is proven guilty, the league-leading Lions (15-3) will forfeit four of their games and drop to fourth spot in a sudden Final Four matchup with archrival Knights, bumping the Stags and Altas up to second and third place, respectively - and a fourth face-off this season.
The Altas, with Nigerian forward Nicholas Omorogbe back, fought back from a late 13-point deficit and gained the lead several times, the last at 71-70 after a Harold Arboleda triple with two minutes and five seconds remaining.
But Perez, Dela Cruz, and Vergara scored the game’s last nine points to put the outcome beyond doubt.
Perez, who is making a move in the Rookie of the Year race, finished with another all-around outing of 20 points, seven boards, and five assists.
Perpetual Help counterpart Juneric Baloria, the leading ROY candidate, had his worst game this season, missing all his 11 attempts and getting his only two points from the charity stripe.
Omorogbe returned from a knee injury with 21 points, but shot a woeful 4-of-22 from the field.
San Sebastian (81) – Perez 20, Guinto 15, Dela Cruz 14, Ortuoste 11, Vergara 10, De Vera 4, Aquino 3, Balucanag 2, Tano 2, Rebollos 0, Gusi 0, Trinidad 0.
Perpetual (71) – Omorogbe 21, Alano 14, Thompson 13, Jolangcob 8, Oliveria 4, Ylagan 4, Arboleda 3, Elopre 2, Baloria 2, Dizon 0, Bantayan 0, Lucente 0.
Quarterscores: 14-14; 36-32; 55-46; 81-71.