JOSE Rizal University survived a huge San Sebastian fightback to pull off an 82-74 win and stay in the hunt for the Final Four berth in the 88th NCAA men’s basketball tournament at the Arena in San Juan Thursday night.
Byron Villarias led the Heavy Bombers with 28 points built around eight three-pointers, including one that kept the rallying Stags at bay midway in the payoff period.
The timely trey by Villarias extended JRU’s lead to 70-65, halting San Sebastian's momentum after the Stags cut down what was once an imposing 20-43 second-quarter deficit to only two with 8:53 to go.
“Yung composure at effort ng mga players andoon. Noong up by two na lang kami, ang importante doon `yung naka-set kami ng play,” said JRU coach Vergel Meneses.
The Heavy Bombers remain very much in contention for a semis berth as they improved to 10-7 overall, just half a game behind Letran and Perpetual Help which are tied for third and fourth place, respectively, at 10-6.
The Bombers and the Knights, however, face lightweight opposition in their final games while Perpetual will have to deal with Final Four-bound San Beda and San Sebastian in its final two assignments.
“Masaya ako siyempre,” said Meneses, who finally won against the Stags for the first time in his three years as JRU coach.
Reigning league MVP Calvin Abueva had another dominant night for the Stags with 26 points and 20 rebounds, while MVP contender Ian Sangalang added 25 and 10 boards.
Together with Ronald Pascual, the trio led the Stags’ huge second-half comeback that saw them silence the Heavy Bombers in a three-minute stretch to pull within 46-56.
The deficit was down to 57-65 entering the final period as the `Pinatubo Trio’ outscored the entire JRU squad in the third quarter, 18-9.
Abueva’s three-point play towed the Stags to within 63-65, the closest they could get before Villarias came through with that clutch trey of his.
Villarias also had seven rebounds, two assists, two steals, and five blocks for the Heavy Bombers, while Nate Matute and John Lopez added 12, respectively.
The Stags remain in second place at 11-5, assured of a place in the Final Four but still short of locking up a twice-to-beat edge in the round.
JRU (82) -- Villiarias 28, Matute 12, Lopez 12, Mendoza 8, Mabulac 7, Monserat 7, Porter 4, Dela Paz 2, Maconocido 2, Salaveria 0, Camasura 0, Muñez 0.
San Sebastian (74) -- Abueva 26, Sangalang 25, Maiquez 9, Pascual 5, Vitug 4, Antipuesto 2, Miranda 2, Gusi 1, Balucanag 0, Dela Cruz 0, Rebullos 0, Binuya 0
Quarterscores: 28-14, 56-36, 65-57, 82-74.