Arellano University was on the verge of suffering another loss but this time at the hands of the upset-seeking College of Saint Benilde. But 22-year-old rookie Levi dela Cruz did not allow an upset to happen in front of Arellano great Jiovani Jalalon, leading the Chiefs’ 87-81 come-from-behind win against the Blazers, Friday afternoon at the Filoil Flying V Centre in San Juan City.
The win snapped Arellano’s four-game slide to go up to 3-5. And no one was more relieved than Arellano head coach Jerry Codinera.
“Masaya siyempre. At least yun yung hinihintay namin. Pag gising ko kanina, maganda na pakiramdam ko na mananalo na kami,” shared the PBA legend.
Arellano ace Kent Salado could not find his looks in the game, attempting just six shots for nine points, four rebounds, three assists, and two steals. Fortunately for the Chiefs, former National University Bullpup Dela Cruz stepped up with 24 points on 9-for-13 shooting to go along with four assists.
“Na-surprise ako sa performance niya. Sana maging consistent na ito,” Codinera remarked about his rookie.
But Saint Benilde came out firing in the opening half, leading by as much as 16 points, 39-23, after a split from the stripe by Clement Leutcheu with five minutes remaining in the opening half.
After slicing the lead in the third frame, the troika of Dela Cruz, Salado, and Lervin Flores took charge in the end.
“Sabi ko sa kanila, just find a way to win. Double-teaming and backcourt pressure namin gumana,” recalled Codinera telling his troops.
Down 63-69 with 7:17 left, the Chiefs went on a 15-3 rally to turn the tides of the game. Salado was able to pick up a steal against Gerard Castor for the go-ahead lay-up with 4:45 left, while back-to-back triples by Dela Cruz capped the rally with 3:00 left for a 78-71 lead.
The lead would only go to as low as five points with 28 ticks on the clock, as Salado and Flores sealed the win for the Chiefs.
Flores finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds to go along with two blocks.
Leutcheu led Saint Benilde with 21 points on 8-for-14 shooting and gobbled 10 rebounds. Frontcourt-mate Edward Dixon added 14 points and 14 rebounds.
Saint Benilde finished their first round campaign with a 2-7 slate. Arellano, on the other hand, end their first round campaign against the San Beda Red Lions on Tuesday, August 29.
AU 87 – Dela Cruz 24, Flores 14, Salado 9, Alcoriza 8, Enriquez 7, Nicholls 7, Concepcion 6, Cañete 4, Meca 4, Taywan 4, Filart 0, Ongolo Ongolo 0, Padilla 0, Viloria 0.
CSB 81 – Leutcheu 21, Dixon 14, Domingo 10, Sta. Maria 10, Naboa 9, Castor 8, Pili 6, San Juan 3, Young 0.
Quarterscores: 19-20, 35-47, 58-62, 87-81.