Nueva Ecija crawled out of a deep pit to thwart Bataan, 72-69, late Saturday and shared the lead in the OKBet-MPBL (Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League) Fifth Season at the Nueva Ecija Coliseum in Palayan City.
The defending champions Rice Vanguards stared at a 26-49 halftime deficit before gradually working their way back. They finally seized control over the Bataan Risers in the last two minutes to tally their third straight victory in the 29-team tournament.
Earlier, the Quezon Huskers also came from behind to nip Rizal Xentro Mall Golden Coolers, 74-73, and join the idle Bulacan Kuyas and the Muntinlupa Cagers at 3-0.
Will MCaloney presided over Nueva Ecija’s comeback by pouring 11 of his 16 points in the second half and was supported by Pamboy Raymundo, Byron Villarias, and Jay Collado in the fiery rally that delighted the hometown crowd.
The burly Cebuano also grabbed 14 rebounds and blocked three shots to earn best player honors. Raymundo scored all of his eight points in the second half, Villarias ended up with 10 points, and Collado with eight.
Other Rice Vanguards who delivered for coach Jerson Cabiltes were homegrown Bobby Balucanag with 10 points and Michael Juico with nine.
Bataan, which led for over 36 minutes, drew 16 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, and three steals from prized acquisition Yves Sazon. He did, however, fail to force overtime after missing a 3-pointer with four seconds to go.
The Risers, who tasted their first defeat in three games, got 11 points from Kristoffr Torrado and 10 each from Jeff Santos and Arvie Bringas.
Bacolod City of Smiles drew double digits from six players and dumped the Bicol Volcanoes, 93-82, for their first win in three starts.
Domark Matillano fired 17 points, while John Cantimbuhan, Justin Alano, and Ryusei Koga added 13 each for Bacolod, which also got 12 points from James Mangahas, who joined the MPBL 1,000-point club, and 10 from Mac Montilla.
Bicol tasted its third straight defeat despite the 20-point, eight-rebound, eight-assist, two-steal effort of James Martinez, the 10-point, 9-rebound output of Peejay Barua, and the 10-point, five-rebound, five-assist contribution of Raymark Matias.
League newcomer Quezon Province was led by Al Francis Tamsi with 15 points, three rebounds, and two assists and Prince Rivero with 13 points and five rebounds.
Rizal, which fell to 0-3, got 16 points and eight rebounds from Art Patrick Aquino, 13 points, five rebounds and five steals from Troy Mallillin and 10 points plus four rebounds from Jordan Rios.
The MPBL visits the Batangas City Coliseum on Monday with another triple-bill pitting Bacoor against Valenzuela at 4:00 PM, Imus against Pasig at 6:00 PM and Iloilo against Batangas at 8:00 PM.