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Pontejos keeps JRU alive, hands Letran back-to-back losses



The Final Four race just got a little more intriguing.

After Mapua’s upset win over Arellano earlier in the day, the Jose Rizal University Heavy Bombers gave the Colegio de San Juan de Letran Knights its first taste of a losing streak, 86-80, to stay alive in the playoff race early Friday evening at the Filoil Flying V Arena in San Juan City.

“We’ve been practicing on how to break Letran’s press for most of the week,” JRU head coach Vergel Meneses said. The press break the Heavy Bombers employed was in full effect right from the get go as the JRU feasted in scoring 25 points in the first half. Darius Estrella ran past the Letran defenders in scoring eight first quarter points. In addition, Abdoul Poutouochi crashed the boards that led to four inside points.

The onslaught continued early in the second quarter with Paolo Pontejos providing the offense. The JRU lead grew to a game-high 41-28 with three minutes to go before halftime. After a timeout, the momentum shifted to the Letran-side with Mark Cruz leading the way. Cruz converted on two three-pointers in the quarter, scoring 10 in the second half. Moreover, Kevin Racal and Jerrick Balanza helped cut the deficit eight to enter halftime, 48-40.

Slowly, the red and blue squad decimated the Jose Rizal lead in the third canto. The Letran-press was in full effect as it finally forced the Heavy Bombers to turnovers. Rey Nambatac took advantage of this as he scored eight Letran straight points to cut the deficit to just four, 56-53. However, Letran head coach Aldin Ayo was called for a technical foul that momentarily halted their momentum. Fortunately for the Letran faithful, Mark Cruz converted on a sweet reverse layup plus the harm that gave them their first taste of the lead, 58-57. The two teams then exchanged baskets up until the end of the quarter as Abdulwahab Abdulrazak found a cutting Dave Sanchez for a jumper that gave JRU a two-point lead before entering the final frame, 64-62.

Letran was able to get the lead once more, 70-69, at the 7:25 mark of the fourth as Cruz found Kevin Racal for a corner three pointer. However, Paolo Pontejos, who has been scorching during the entire second round, converted on a huge stepback three-pointer to regain the lead. This sparked a game-breaking 13-2 run highlighted by another pullup three-pointer by Pontejos. Kevin Racal tried to singlehandedly bring Letran back to the game but misses and eventual disqualification of Cruz and Nambatac ended all hopes for a Knights comeback with Jose Rizal winning their third straight game, 86-80.

A relieved Vergel Meneses said after that the game that their still taking it one game at a time. “We knew [going in] that Letran will be a hard matchup, yung fighting spirit nila they always go hard,” the PBA legend added. “The effort was there, I hope it continues.”

The Heavy Bombers were led by Paolo Pontejos’ 21 markers. The spitfire guard was 8/13 from the field, including four triples. John Grospe added 13 points and seven boards. This performance helped limit Tey Teodoro to 16 minutes of play. The Smart Elite ambassador scored 9 points on 3/8 shooting. He added four boards and two dimes.

For the suddenly falling Knights, Kevin Racal topscored with 23 points. Mark Cruz added 17 points but was just 6/16 from the field. Nambatac had 12 points and grabbed 8 boards but was just 4/14 from the field.

The Knights shot a poor 38% from the field and was just 9/31 from downtown. On the other hand, the Heavy Bombers were able to shoot at a higher clip at 55%.

The Heavy Bombers look to stay alive in the playoff race as they face the Perpetual Altas on Friday, September 25 at 2:00pm while the Letran Knights look to break the funk their in as they face the Arellano Chiefs on the same day at 4:00pm.

The Scores:

JRU (86) – Pontejos 21, Grospe 13, Estrella 11, Dela Paz 10, Teodoro 9, Poutouochi 8, Abdulwahab 5, Sanchez 4, Cruz 3, Astilla 2, Aurin 0, Balagtas 0, Dela Virgen 0

CSJL (80) – Racal 23, Cruz 17, Nambatac 12, Sollano 8, Balanza 6, Apreku 4, Luib 4, Calvo 3, Publico 3, Gedaria 0, Balagasay 0, Quinto 0

Quarters: 25-15, 48-40, 64-62, 86-80