The Café France-CEU Bakers withstood a furious Tanduay Rhum Masters rally, 72-63, to enter the Finals of the PBA D-League Aspirants cup, Tuesday afternoon at the Filoil Flying V Centre, San Juan City.
The Rhum Masters took control early on, as baskets by Adrian Santos and Narciso Llagas put Tanduay at an 11-7 lead. Café France’s Samboy De Leon scored on a triple, but Val Acuna scored on a put-back of his own shot, and Lucas Tagarda sank a trey for a 16-10 Tanduay lead.
That would be the last bucket for the Rhum Masters for the quarter, as the Bakers bumrushed their opponents, with De Leon scoring on another triple, Carl Cruz making two free throws, care of an unsportsmanlike foul by Llagas, and Paul Zamar capping the quarter with a foul counted triple, sinking the free throw for a 19-16 Café France at the end of the second quarter.
Tanduay drew first blood in the second quarter as Santos scored of a rebounded shot. Café France were quick to counter, with Jayson Opiso scoring back-to-back baskets that triggered an 11-0 Bakers run for a 30-18 lead. Former Ateneo Blue Eagle Von Pessumal momentarily ended Tanduay’s scoring drought, scoring on a jumper and following it up with a triple in the next possession for five quick points. Tanduay’s Rudy Lingganay further trimmed the deficit as he scored on a long jumper for a 30-25 deficit.
Tanduay’s mini run was quickly negated by back-to-back triples from Alvin Abundo and Cruz. Rodrigue Ebondo scored on a fastbreak, and Abundo notched another triple for a 16-point Café France lead, their largest of the game.
By the end of the first half, Café France had limited their errors to a single turnover, while forcing Tanduay to cough up the ball nine times. They also successfully moved the ball around better, with six assists compared to the Rhum Masters’ three.
Tanduay used a strong third quarter to stay in the game, with Lingganay scoring on a jumpshot, and Tagarda connecting on a fast break attempt. Ebondo scored on the inside, but Lingganay went on a 5-0 run, supported by a Jaypee Belencion triple, to trim their deficit to just 5, 49-44. Café France were able to end the quarter on a high note, with De Leon scoring on a put-back during the waning moments of the quarter.
Tanduay opened the final canto with a 6-0 run care of Lingganay and Acuna. Tanduay finally tasted the lead once more, with Llagas scoring inside on the 8:10 mark for a 52-51 lead. Both teams proceeded to trade the lead, with Café France getting a lot of help from the free throw line.
Down by 1 with 1:35 remaining in the game, Jeruta scored on a fastbreak, followed by a De Leon triple, giving Café France the lead for good, 67-63, with 31 seconds remaining. To drive the point home even further, Abundo stole the ball and scored on the break, almost ensuring Café France’s spot in the Finals.
Café France were led by Ebondo’s double-double, with 13 points and 12 rebounds. De Leon, Abundo, and Cruz also chipped in double-digit scoring with 13, 12, and 10 points respectively.
For the Rhum Masters, Lingganay led the way with 17 points, 9 rebounds, and 7 assists. Acuna was the next highest scorer with 14 points, and Santos almost reached a double-double with 9 points and 11 rebounds.
Café France head coach Edgar Macaraya commended his boys for following their gameplan, as well as showing maturity despite the runs that Tanduay made during the late third and early fourth quarter.
“Especially this day, the boys showed character, and the heart of a champion,” Macaraya, who is gunning for back-to-back PBA D-League crowns, said. “First thing na pinasok namin sa ulo is I want everybody to go basic. We know what is coming, and we know the play of coach Lawrence (Chongson).”
With the win, Café France await the winner between the Caida Tile Masters and Phoenix-FEU Fuel Accelerators, with Game One of the Finals being held either on Thursday, March 31, or Tuesday, April 5, depending on if Caida and Phoenix’s match extends to a Game Three.
Café France (72) – De Leon 13, Ebondo 13, Abundo 12, Cruz 10, Jeruta 9, Zamar 9, Opiso 5, Casino 1, Manlangit 0, Villahermosa 0.
Tanduay (63) – Lingganay 17, Acuna 14, Santos 9, Tagarda 8, Llagas 7, Pessumal 5, Belencion 3, Belleza 0, Cenal 0, Javillonar 0, Wetherell 0.
Quarterscores: 19-16, 43-28, 51-44, 72-63.