Nueva Ecija flaunted its deep bench once again to beat San Juan, 84-68, and clinch the North division crown of the OKbet-MPBL (Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League) 4th Season Presented by Xtreme at the overflow Nueva Ecija Coliseum in Palayan City.
The Rice Vanguards, with Will McAloney at the helm, withstood the best the Knights could offer in the fourth quarter to win the Game 3 decider pulling away, and ending the title playoffs at 2-1.
With the count at 82-68 and Nueva Ecija’s Hesed Gabo rewarded with two free throws, Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, co-team owner of the Knights, approached the Nueva Ecija bench and conceded defeat, to the delight of over 6000 fans who filled the coliseum to the rafters with hundreds more turned away.
McAloney wound up with 15 points and 8 rebounds, trailing only Byron Villarias’ 19 points, including 15 in the first half.
Other Rice Vanguards who delivered were Chris Bitoon, a non-factor in the first two games with nine points, six assists, and three rebounds, Michael Mabulac with eight points and 11 rebounds, and Game 2 hero JR Taganas with seven points and four rebounds.
Nueva Ecija team owner Bong Cuevas received the championship trophy from MPBL Commissioner Kenneth Duremdes.
San Juan put up a tough stand in the first half, but eventually wilted under the constant bombardment of the Rice Vanguards, who have posted a 27-1 record thus far.
San Juan got 16 points from Orlan Wamar and 14 points each from Judel Fuentes and Dexter Maiquez.
The Knights were sharp in their free throw attempts in the first half, making all but one of 15, with Orlan Wamar going seven of seven and Dexter Maiquez four of four, for a very high 93.3 percent clip. In contrast, the Rice Vanguards only made 2-of-4 charities in that span.
Villarias was the only Rice Vanguard in double figures with 15 points on a 5-of-6 performance from rainbow territory.
Chris Bitoon drove in with one second left to give San Juan a 41-39 lead at halftime.
Meanwhile, Zamboanga Family’s Brand Sardines and Batangas City Embassy Chill tangle for the South division crown on Saturday at the Mayor Vitaliano Agan Coliseum in Zamboanga City.
Beaten at home by Batangas in the opener of their title series, 71-80, Zamboanga returned the favor with a 73-53 victory at the Batangas City Coliseum on Tuesday to force the do-or-die showdown.
Batangas is the inaugural MPBL champion in the 2018 Anta Rajah Cup while Zamboanga is in the division finals for the first time.