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Nambatac’s late sniping propels Letran against Mapua

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In a battle of two Intamuros-based squads, the top-seeded Colegio de San Juan de Letran (CSJL) Knights were able to hang on, despite squandering a huge lead, against the Mapua Institute of Technology (MIT) Cardinals, 80-77, on Friday at the San Juan Arena.

From the get-go, the Knights went with their patented fullcourt pressure defense that forced Mapua to three early turnovers in less than three minutes. The Knights were also crashing the offensive glass early, but Mapua managed to limit second chances by Letran as the two teams played on a slow pace scoring-wise. Points off turnovers started to pile up in favor of the Knights in their 13-7 start with Kevin Racal and McJour Luib making three-point plays midway in the opening quarter. Mapua then countered by inserting their second unit to replace a slow start done by their starters. The Cardinals managed to close the first ten minutes strong, as they were able to tie the game at 17 behind the hot shooting by Stephen Que, but trailed by four at the end of the quarter.

With basically the same theme in terms of locking down the entire court, Letran opened up the second quarter with an 8-0 spurt, including a Mark Cruz three and capped by a Jerrick Balanza fastbreak shot, to open up the first double-digit spread in the match. The Knights forced Mapua to contested attemps from the perimeter, as the latter only had a lone fieldgoal in nearly four minutes in the second. As the Cardinals failed to pile up the stops while also bleeding for good looks at the rim, Letran pounded on them with another mid-quarter run to increase their lead to 21 at 48-27. However, Mapua made a headway to start their run by outscoring Letran by six at the tail-end of the first half.

Maintaining momentum, Mapua roared back by giving Letran a dose of their own medicine and limiting good shot attempts by the Knights. Justin Serrado made two shots to spearhead their third quarter rampage and claw their way back down to five points at 53-48.

Looking lost, Letran was in a losing end of a furious second half rampage against the Cardinal’s impecable sniping from the perimeter. As Oraeme opened up the scoring in the last canto to give his squad the edge, Jay Aguirre and Exequiel Biteng drained in a triple each to extend their lead at 67-60. As the pace of the game went back-and-forth, the exciting exchange and hot streak went the way of Rey Nambatac, who came up huge down the stretch. The Letran sniper had a personal 14-point surge including four three-point bombs to help Letran regain a 77-73 cushion with a little over two minutes to play.

In the next plays, Mark Cruz delivered another clutch three, but Mapua’s free throws aided them to hang on with seconds left in the match. With half a minute left, Cruz then hoisted up a miss from downtown, but Mapua failed to capitalize, with Que committing a late traveling violation. Things got interesting with Nambatac muffing potential game-sealing free throws, but his squad had the last laugh as another interception in the passing lane broke a chance of Mapua to tie the game.

“Di ako nakatulog [the night before this game],” Coach Aldin Ayo disclosed after the game. “I knew this game was gonna be big.”

Moreover, he added that Rey Nambatac was not 100%. “Di ko nga alam bago nag start yung game kung maglalaro siya o hindi e. Medyo maga pa ang ankle niya. Pero si Rey Nambatac, Mark Cruz, at yung iba pa, alam namin maasahan namin sila,” he closed.

The league-leaders were led by Rey Nambatac’s 22 points. Nambatac was 7/21 from the field, but was 6/12 from downtown. He also grabbed ten rebounds and was able to steal the ball five times. Mark Cruz continued to sizzle as well with 16 points and six assists.

For the Cardinals, Allwell Oraeme played the entire game and top scored for his team with 23 points and grabbed a season-high 28 boards. Complimenting the effort once against is the tandem of Que and Biteng with 28 combined points. Smart Elite Ambassador, Andretti Stevens was just limited to five minutes of play.

Letran improves to an 8-1 slate and maintains their hold to the top spot of the standings while Mapua slides to below .500 with now a 4-5 record.

The Scores:

CSJL (80) – Nambatac 22, Cruz 16, Balanza 11, Luib 10, Racal 9, Quinto 8, Apreku 2, Sollano 2, Calvo 0, Bagasay 0

MIT (77) – Oraeme 23, Biteng 15, Que 13, Serrano 8, Nieles 7, Menina 6, Aguirre 3, Raflores 2, Stevens 0, Villasenor 0, Brana 0

Quarters: 25-21, 53-38, 60-59, 80-77.

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