Coming off back-to-back losses to fellow Final Four contenders, the Arellano University (AU) Chiefs got back on track, taking care of the College of Saint Benilde (CSB) Blazers in convincing fashion, 85-73, in the NCAA Season 91 Men’s Basketball tournament at the FilOil Flying V Arena.
The Blazers kept pace with the Chiefs in the opening moments of the match. But Arellano eventually pulled away in the first quarter, 16-8, courtesy of a 7-0 run capped by a Zach Nicholls trifecta. The Fil-Canadian wingman added five more points to his opening quarter tally and led his team to a commanding 30-17 lead heading into the second canto.
Arellano’s punishing pace continued to haunt their foes from Taft in the second quarter. Leading Arellano’s advance, Kent Salado earned multiple chances on the break and pushed the AU lead to 15, 38-23 early in the second stanza. Benilde’s two senior players, Fonsy Saavedra and Jonathan Grey took their turn in the effort to keep their team in the gam, but their subpar defense seemingly allowed Arellano to get whatever shot they wanted. Still, Benilde found themselves within striking distance after the first half, 49-34, thanks to late free throws from JJ Domingo.
With Sinag Pilipinas standout, Jiovani Jalalon going full tilt at the start second half, Arellano continued to add to their lead off conversions in transition. An early 7-0 run inflated the Benilde advantage to 20, 56-36. Later in the third frame, the Chiefs answered a short-lived Benilde rally with 10-1 blitz highlighted by great playmaking from Jio Jalalon. After a pair of Zamora charities, Arellano grew its lead to 26, 74-48.
The Jerry Cordiniera coached squad were comfortably ahead by 27 in the final period before Grey led a last ditch effort for the Blazers. The Laguna native drilled seven points in an 11-0 Blazer rally that cut the deficit down 16, 77-61. But that was as far as the Chiefs allowed their lead to go down as Nicholls unloaded a triple followed by Dioncee Holts corner jumper and an Alan Enriquez charity that put the game out of reach midway through the payoff period, 83-61. Had it not been for a few garbage time buckets for Saavedra, the score board would have illustrated Arellano’s sheer mastery of the rebuilding Blazers.
Arellano head coach Jerry Codinera said that their losses to Perpetual and Letran were a learning experience for the team. Moreover, he said that he told the team to take extra precaution against Benilde especially since Grey just exploded for 30 points in their past game. Fortunately, the bench continued the momentum gained by the starters according to the PBA legend. “Buti na lang nandiyan ang support group. Kahit pa-three or four points lang,” he said.
Jalalon, whose play was severely hampered in their past few games due to a hand injury, was back to MVP form dropping 13 points, dishing out 10 assists, and stole the ball twice. Nicholls, meanwhile, went unchecked for most of the game from and paid Benilde’s slacking defense back with 19 points that includes five three-pointers.
Jonathan Grey hopped of the Benilde bench and contributed a game-high 24 points off 10/15 shooting. Fons Saavedra delivered 16 points while former FEU Baby Tamaraw JJ Domingo managed a season-high 15 points.
Tied with the EAC and LPU, CSB finished the first round with a 2-7 slate. Now with a 5-3 record, Arellano looks to end its first round on a high note when it faces off with SBC Red Lions, a rematch of last season’s Finals, on Tuesday August 18.
AU (85) – Nicholls 19, Jalalon 13, Salado 11, Gumaru 9, Holts 6, Ortega 6, Capara 4, Cadavis 4, Zamora 4, Enriquez 3, Meca 2, Bangga 2, Tano 2, Ongolo 0, De Guzman 0
CSB (73) – Grey 24, Saavedra 16, Domingo JJ 15, Domingo JS 6, Ongteco 4, Sta. Maria 4, Fajarito 3, Castor 1, Nayve 0, Deles 0, Young 0, San Juan 0
Quarters: 30-17, 49-34, 74-48, 85-73
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