In a thriller of a match, the Lyceum of the Philippines University (LPU) Pirates needed a clutch performance from Shaq Alanes to stave-off the College of Saint Benilde (CSB) Blazers, 72-69, to take home their first win in the 91st season of the NCAA, early Wednesday afternoon at the Filoil Flying V Arena in San Juan City.
The Blazers were hot from downtown in scoring their first nine points from downtown. Ervin Flores, Travis Jonson, and Raphael Nayve sparked an early 9-2 lead for CSB to open the game. The Pirates, who did not start star big man Joseph Gabayni due to disciplinary sanctions, slowly crawled back behind rookie Noah Lugo. A three pointer and a fastbreak layup by the rookie cut the deficit to just 11-9 with 4:13 to go in the quarter. Shaq Alanes then sparked a 9-2 run to tie the game to end the quarter 16-all.
After a basket by Lyceum’s Victor Nguidjol to open the second, the foreign student-athlete was called for a disqualifying foul in hitting CSB big man JR Ongteco with a closed fist. As a result, Nguidjol was ejected from the game and will be suspended for one game. The two teams then struggled from the field afterwards. Ongteco was able to anchor the CSB defense that led to a 5-0 run, all courtesy of Nayve, to give CSB a 29-26 lead with 52 seconds to go in the quarter. However, the Pirates were able to regain the lead with back-to-back conversions by Mer Ayaay and Joe Lacastesantos to enter halftime.
It was a defensive struggle for the Blazers in the third canto as the coaching staff of LPU was forced to bring in Joseph Gabayni into the game as Nguidjol was ejected from the game. Alanes and Gabayni bruised up the CSB frontline in slashing through the lane and grabbing fouls. The Blazers were called for six fouls in total in the game that resulted to Lyceum going for 10 for 14 from the line. Christian Fajarito and Fons Saavedra were able to convert on jumpshots in the closing minutes of the third canto to help keep Benilde in the game. The Pirates were up 44-38 to close the third quarter.
The game turned into a shootout in the fourth quarter. Jonathan Grey and Saavedra exchanged three pointers with Lyceum’s Wilson Baltazar to open the fourth. Another three pointer by Grey at the 7:38 mark was answered by an and-one layup by Lugo to help LPU maintain a six point lead 55-49. The Blazers then blitzed the Pirates defense in the next four minutes with a huge 12-2 rally. Back-to-back three pointers by Jonson and Saavedra tied the game at 62-all while Ongteco was able to escape the defense of Gabayni to give them the lead 64-62 with 2:28 remaining. The Pirates were able to gain a solitary point lead coming from a layup by Lugo and a free throw by Bulawan. With 1:06 remaining, Jonson was able to steal the ball that led to a Grey layup to put CSB back up by one. However, a foul by Jonson led to free throws by Gabayni. With 39.6 ticks to go, Jonathan Grey called for an isolation that led to a top of the arc three pointer over Alanes. The Pirates were fortunate to recover from a turnover coming from a timeout as Grey missed a layup that would have given the Blazers a two possession lead. Bulawan was able to rebound the Grey miss and was able to locate an open Alanes for a three-pointer to give Lyceum a 70-69 lead with 6.7 remaining. Grey missed a potential game-winning layup and two free throws by Alanes sealed the game 72-69.
After the game, a relieved coach Topex Robinson told the reporters that the game was a huge test of character. “We just never gave up,” Robinson said. “These guys just kept on playing.” Moreover, Robinson said that Alanes, who was stuck in the bench and the team B of Lyceum for a time, was just a player waiting for his opportunity. “Laking pasasalamat ko kay God and kay coach dahil sa opportunity na ito. Hindi ko ito papakawalan,” Alanes promised his coach. Moreover, Robinson said that Gabayni, in his eyes, had paid the price for being late and he had learned from his mistake.
The Pirates were led by Shaq Alanes’ 18 big points on 5/10 shooting. Rookie Lugo also had a breakout game with 16 points on 70% shooting. Gabayni and Balatazar also scored in double digites with 11 and 10 respectively. For the Blazers, Grey led the team with 19 markers, including three triples.
As a team, the Pirates shot 41% from the field while the Blazers shot just 36%. CSB attempted 28 three pointers in the game and only converted on 10. Moreover, the Pirates were more aggressive in getting fouls as CSB committed a total of 22 fouls resulting to 27 free throw attempts for LPU.
LPU will next play San Beda on Tuesday, July 21 at 2:00pm while CSB will play the same opponent on Thursday July 23 at 2:00pm.
LPU (72) – Alanes 18, Lugo 16, Gabayni 11, Baltazar 10, Ayaay 8, Soliman 2, Nguidjol 2 Marata 2 Lacastesantos 2 Bulawan 1, Mbbida 0, Elmejrab 0.
CSB (69) – Grey 19, Saavedra 12, Nayve 11, Fajarito 7, Ongteco 7, Jonson 6, Flores 3, Domingo 2, Castor 2, Sta Maria 0, Young 0, San Juan 0.
Quarterscores: 16-16, 30-29, 44-38, 72-69.