For the third straight year, Team Saints defeated Team Heroes — but not before the student-cagers from Letran, San Beda, San Sebastian, Perpetual, and Saint Benilde needed to pull off an epic comeback.
Behind Tondo-bred cagers Jerrick Balanza and RK Ilagan, the Saints rallied from 23 down to silence the Heroes, 113-111, in the NCAA Season 95 All-Star Game, Tuesday at the SM Mall of Asia Arena.
The Heroes were up big during the third canto before the Saints’ comeback.
“Sinuwerte lang siguro. Pero nag-enjoy kami kanina,” quipped Saints coach Rensy Bajar, who, together with Jeff Napa, took over coaching chores from Bonnie Tan as Tan’s wife Sally was celebrating her birthday. “After the third quarter, mas lalo na nung last five minutes, medyo lumabas na ‘yung pride ng bawat isa. Enjoying pero nandun ‘yung gusto manalo.”
The San Sebastian duo of Ilagan and Alvin Capobres, Perpetual’s Ben Adamos, Letran’s Jerrick Balanza, and Benilde’s Unique Naboa and alumnus Aaron Umlas — who replaced Paolo Taha — all took turns chipping away at the Heroes’ lead.
An inside bucket by Clint Doliguez with 2:01 left then gave the Saints its first taste of the lead, 108-106.
Though Arellano great Jio Jalalon knotted the game later on, Balanza knocked down two free throws to keep the Saints up.
The Heroes had a chance to end their drought in the annual festivity, but Jalalon’s free up of Kent Salado ended up for naught. Salado missed a triple while time expired.
Balanza was adjudged as the All-Star Game MVP after tallying 14 points, four rebounds, and two assists.
“Chamba lang. Actually, ngayon lang ako nag-basketball since Game Three. Matagal na ko hindi nakakahawak ng basketball. Puro bote hawak namin eh,” said Balanza.
Adamos led the Saints with 18 points and nine rebounds, while Umlas added 11 markers. Ilagan scored all seven of his points in the final frame.
This year was the first time in the five-year history of the festivities, the squads were reinforced by five greats from their respective schools.
“Actually, maganda ‘yung format. Number one, nagbibigay tayo ng saya sa fans. At the same time, eto ‘yung mga dating players like Rey [Nambatac], nababalik nila ‘yung college spirit nila. Malaking bagay ito sa NCAA. At the same time, ‘yung mga player, for the last four months magkakalaban sila, tapos ngayon magkakampi na. Malaking bagay sa kanila ito,” said Bajar, himself an alumnus of San Beda.
Heroes, who were coached by Cholo Martin, were paced by Justin Arana and Jayvee Marcelino, who had 22 points each. The former had seven rebounds and four blocks, while the latter added five rebounds and four assists.
Jalalon tallied 14 points, nine assists, four rebounds, and three steals, while Jayvee’s twin Jaycee chipped in 12 points.
Saints (113) – Adamos 18, Balanza 14, Umlas 11, Doliguez 9, Charcos 8, Ilagan 7, Nambatac 7, Batiller 6, Capobres 6, Alano 6, Naboa 5, Soberano 5, Baluyot 4, Gutang 4, Koga 3.
Heroes (111) – Arana 22, Marcelino JV. 22, Jalalon 14, Marcelino JV. 12, Gamboa 10, Maguliano 8, Miranda 7, Onwubere 5, Mendoza 5, Dela Rosa 3, Salado 3, Lugo 0.
Quarterscores: 26-35, 47-62, 75-92, 113-111