Nueva Ecija flaunted its depth to open their Pool C campaign in the 2021 Chooks-to-Go Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League Invitational powered by TM, taking a 99-92 victory over Sarangani, Sunday at the SM Mall of Asia Arena.
Though the win was a wire-to-wire victory that saw the Rice Vanguards lead by as much as 18 points, head coach Carlo Tan was disappointed with the defense displayed by the team.
“I feel the players played not so good in general but offensively, we were really good,” said Tan. “There are some things that we need to clean up defensively.”
Behind the trio of Michael Mabulac, JP Sarao, and Byron Villarias, Nueva Ecija had a strong start, putting up 75 points entering the final frame. However, their lead was just at 10 points.
The Rice Vanguards continued to step on the pedal in the final frame as Roi Sumang, Renz Palma, and Diego Dario also got into the offensive spree. The closest the Marlins got in the final frame was at seven which ended up being the final score.
“We really had 10 days to work with this team. It’s still a work in progress,” said Tan as Nueva Ecija allowed Sarangani to shoot 47-percent from the field.
Mabulac led Nueva Ecija with 17 points and six rebounds. Sarao got 15 points and five rebounds while Villaries added 14 points built on four triples.
Sumang, who was celebrating his 31st birthday, chipped in eight points on 3-of-7 shooting from the field with five assists, three rebounds, and two steals.
Both Bitoon and Justin Gutang got 10 points each as well.
Nueva Ecija, along with San Juan-Go for Gold AICC, took the early lead in their group while Sarangani and Val City-MJAS Zenith are both 0-1. Muntinlupa will make their debut on Tuesday against Val City.
Macky Acosta led Sarangani with 17 points while Marvin Lee scattered 15 points on 4-of-11 shooting with six rebounds, four assists, and a steal. Paul Sanga and Gabby Espinas added 13 and 11 points, respectively.
Nueva Ecija will next face Val City on Thursday while Sarangani takes on San Juan tomorrow.
Nueva Ecija 99 – Mabulac 17, Sarao 15, Villarias 14, Gutang 10, Bitoon 10, Gozum 8, Sumang 8, Palma 8, Dario 6, Balucanag 3, Belgica 0.
Sarangani 92 – Acosta 17, Lee, 15, Sanga 13, Espinas 11, Sarangay 9, Marilao 8, Munsayac 7, Basibas 4, Monteclaro 3, Bautista 3, Ludovice 2, Sta. Ana 0.
Quarterscores: 22-13, 49-38, 75-65, 99-92.