EMKAI–Rizal Xentromall leaned on its defense all game long, taking a 73-66 wire-to-wire win over GenSan in Pool D of the 2021 Chooks-to-Go Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League Invitational Cup powered by TM, Sunday at the SM Mall of Asia Arena.
Given just two weeks to prepare for the 13-day tournament that has P2-million going to the champion, Golden Coolers head coach Rodney Santos focused on defense to prep the team for the marathon.
“Nagso-sorry nga ako sa mga players because I had to squeeze in my schemes and system in just two weeks,” said Santos. “Pagdating lang sa game, dumepensa lang ang gusto ko. Puwede sila magkamali sa opensa pero hindi sa depensa. At the end of the day, yung offense bonus na lang yan.”
The Golden Coolers did not let up on the defensive end, forcing the Warriors to shoot just 32.8-percent from the field.
But GenSan was able to get back in the final frame. Down by as much as 16 points, 39-55, late in the third quarter, Ronjay Buenafe and Felix Apreku sparked a 16-2 rally to cut the lead down to just two with 6:41 left.
Andrian Celada and Jansen Rios though were able to weather the rally, scoring seven points each to close out the Warriors.
Celada had 23 points on 8-of-14 shooting from the field, 4-of-9 from distance, with seven rebounds, three steals, and two blocks. Rios added 16 points on 7-of-11 shooting and nine rebounds.
Mark Benitez also grabbed 10 rebounds while Kurt Sunga had eight assists.
With the win, Rizal joins Imus on top of Pool D while GenSan and Bulacan sit at the bottom. The Manila Stars will make their debut on Monday against Rizal while Mindoro-EOG Sports faces Bulacan on Tuesday.
“Mixed emotion ako kasi going into game, kasi nandun yung pressure,” shared Santos, who was returning to head coaching after six years. “Sabi ko nga sa kanila sa dugout, yung pinakaimportante in a short tournament is win the first game. “
Ronjay Buenafe paced GenSan with 20 points while RJ Ramirez and Felix Apreku chipped in 11 and 10 points, respectively.
Pamboy Raymundo was limited to just four points while committing three turnovers while GenSan captain Gerald Anderson played just three minutes, scoring two points on free throws.
EMKAI-Rizal 73 – Celada 23, Rios 16, Serrano 9, Victoria 8, Acibar 8, Benitez 4, Sunga 2, Melegrito 2, Pretta 1, Dela Cruz 0, Villanueva 0.
GenSan 66 – Buenafe 20, Ramirez 11, Apreku 10, Masaglang 9, Raymundo 4, Galoran 4, Saldua 4, Anderson 2, Ongteco 2, Mondragon 1, Nakpil 0, Pangilinan 0.
Quarterscores: 17-11, 35-29, 57-43, 73-66.