Rodrigue Ebondo and Mon Abundo steered Cafe France-CEU in a huge second half rally to overcome Phoenix-FEU, 83-74, Thursday at the Ynares Sports Arena in Pasig, and claim top spot in the PBA D-League Aspirants Cup.
Ebondo and Abundo combined for 21 points in the second half, helping the the Bakers finish with a 7-1 record in the elimination round. The team will take on the eighth-seeded squad while holding a twice-to-beat advantage. The Bakers will likely avoid a semi-finals clash with the Accelerators or the Caida Tile Masters as well.
“As I’ve (told them) before the game, at stake yung number one spot. It is a good motivation for the quarter-finals. Seeding lang naman to eh. They boys played well. They didn’t want to lose. We executed our gameplan. Still, number one seed lang ito, we are (all) going to rhe quarterfinals,” Cafe France head coach Egay Macaraya said.
“The seven games we won, we focused on defense. And we proved it again. The best scoring team in the D-League, medyo maliit yung scoring nila ngayon. Siguro it’s our day.”
Phoenix, who had averaged 97.5 points a game entering the match, were held to only 74 points, the team’s lowest output in the tournament. Only Alfrancis Tamsi finished in double-digits after scoring 17 points.
Mike Tolomia and Mac Belo were both shut down, combining for only 13 points on 5-for-18 field goals for the Accelerators.
Ebondo led Cafe France with 26 points and 19 rebounds. Four more players scored in double-digits, with Abundo scoring all of his 10 points in the second half.
An and-one conversion by Abundo followed by a Samboy De Leon three gave Cafe France their first sizable cushion at 53-46 midway in the third quarter.
Later in the fourth period, Ebondo and Abundo knocked down back-to-back jumpers to make it a 72-64 lead for the Bakers.
Ed Daquioag tried to get the Accelerators back in the match with a layup to cut the Bakers lead down to 74-69.
The Bakers, however, closed the match on a 9-4 note in a stretch that included a big triple from Carl Bryan Cruz with just over two minutes left, pushing the Bakers lead to 81-71.
While now in the top spot, Macaraya hopes the team continues to enter each game prepared, wary that the playoffs are back to square one.
“I just hope everybody will be ready to play. Kahit sino naman ang kalaban, lalaruin pa rin yan eh. We still have to play,” he said.
“We will still play basketball. I don’t want to comment on it yet. There is no way you have an advantage. There is 40 minutes to play. The bottomline is we have to prepare.”
Cafe France-CEU (83) – Ebondo 26, Villahermosa 13, Cruz 11, De Leon 11, Abundo 10, Jeruta 5, Opiso 3, Manlangit 2, Zamar 2.
Phoenix-FEU (74) – Tamsi 17, Tolomia 9, Mendoza 7, Pascual 7, Andrada 6, Belo 6, Escoto Ri. 6, Daquioag 5, Escoto Ru. 5, Inigo 4, Lee Yu 2.
Quarterscores: 18-15, 43-41, 65-58, 83-74.