AN undermanned San Sebastian side weathered a late rally by Lyceum to hack out a 58-53 victory on Thursday in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament at The Arena in San Juan.
Without standout rookies Jamil Ortuoste, Brad Guinto, and Leo de Vera, the Golden Stags turned to CJ Perez and their role players in outlasting the gritty Pirates, who fell just short after rallying from a huge deficit.
“It’s a huge opportunity for the others,” said Stags coach Topex Robinson, who had enough trust to field seldom-used players Gio Vergara, Raffy Gusi, and Jon Rebollos alongside usual finishers Perez and Ranimark Tano in the endgame.
San Sebastian thus solidified its hold of the fourth and final playoff spot with an eighth victory in 13 games, while dealing Lyceum its ninth loss in 13 outings and dimming the Pirates’ chances of making it to the Final Four.
San Beda and Letran share the top spot with 10-2 records, with Perpetual in third at 10-3.
The 19-year-old Perez, the prized rookie who has drawn comparisons to former King Stag Calvin Abueva, lived up to his stature as the “New Beast,” tallying a career-high 28 points, along with 11 rebounds, two assists, two blocks, and one steal.
The freshman spearheaded the Stags in establishing an early 20-point cushion, which the Pirates almost erased.
“It’s not just about CJ. It’s the players around him,” Robinson said. “They make him look good.”
Tano had 12 rebounds, five blocks, and four points as the starting center in place of Guinto, who missed his third game due to typhoid fever.
Vergara, Gusi, and Rebollos’ statistics were hardly noteworthy, but they showed poise down the stretch.
The Stags built a 36-16 second-quarter lead, before the Pirates slowly clawed back and nudged to within two points, 53-55, after Shane Ko hit two charities with 25 seconds to go.
“It was the same scenario when we played them,” Robinson said, referring to the Stags’ 55-60 loss to Lyceum in the first round where it was the Pirates who survived the Stags without three suspended players.
Ortuoste missed the game due to fever, while De Vera was suspended for getting ejected in their 72-63 win over Mapua in their previous game.
SSC (58) – Perez 28, De la Cruz 6, Rebollos 5, Gusi 4, Tano 4, Trinidad 3, Vergara 3, Balucanag 2, Aquino 2, Magno 1.
LPU (53) – Zamora 12, Ko 11, Mbomiko 10, Lesmoras 6, Francisco 4, Ambohot 4, Azores 2, Lacastesantos 2, Taladua 2, Mendoza 0, Baltazar 0, Evangelista 0, Alanes 0.
Quarterscores: 23-12; 36-20; 45-37; 58-53.