The Mapua Institute of Technology (MIT) Cardinals earned its fourth consecutive victory, squeaking by the Lyceum of the Philippines University (LPU) Pirates, 70-66, in the 91st season of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at the FilOil Flying V Arena.
The league’s best offensive squad, Mapua blitzed their Intramuros neighbors in the opening quarter, drilling four triples along with a plethora of long two pointers to bury LPU in a 25-12 hole to end the first quarter. The law of averages, however, caught up with the cardinals in the following canto, managing only a single field goal in the first five minutes. Lyceum took full advantage, nibbling the deficit down to five after a Marata trifecta with 3:20 left in the first half. MIT then caught fire, scoring the last seven points of the half higlighted by back-to-back Mark Braña jumpers to forge a 37-25 advantage to cap the opening half.
With the Pirates consciously taking the ball into he teeth of the Mapua defense, the Cardinals’ prized big man, Allwell Oraeme got into heavy foul trouble and was sat out for more than half of the third quarter after catching his fourth foul. Returning Lyceum power forward, Joseph Gabayni went to work in the third canto, dropping 11 points in the quarter alone with his late and-one play bringing his team to within eight, 41-49 with two minutes remaining in the third quarter. What followed was a hectic exchange of fastbreak buckets from both teams with Mapua vaulting their lead back up to 13, 58-45, entering the pay-off period.
Oraeme re-entered the match with eight minutes remaining on the gane clock. But the Nigerian stalwart sat immediately went back to the bench after incurring his disqualifying foul two minutes later, much to the dismay of Mapua head coach, Atoy Co who was ejected from the game for gamely questioning Oraeme’s fifth foul. Lyceum utilized a gigantic lineup of MJ Ayaay, Joseph Baltazer, Gabayni, Victor Nguidjol, and Jeb Bulawan to closeout the game. The lineup’s length and Nguidjol’s speed in defending Mapua’s guards helped Lyceum slowly creep back into the match as the Cardinals continued to foul the Pirates everytime the ball flung its way near the rim. Lyceum rattled off seven consecutive points from the charity stripe to slice the Mapua lead down to three, 62-65, the closest they got since the start of the match. The Mapuans, still struggling to get points on the board, clinched their win with scrappy defense. Mapua point guard, JP Nieles got a steal and a layup that gave Mapua a 67-62 lead which Gabayni followed with a sweepjng hook. With the shot clock winding down a few possessions later, Nieles bailed his team out with triple from the top of the arc to keep his team ahead, 70-64, with 2:42 left in the match. Neither team converted a field goal in the closing moments with the Pirates getting multiple offensive boards but failed to bring the Mapua lead down. Lyceum also had a tough time in the final minute to get back possession with the Cardinals hustling for every loose ball and offensive rebound.
In their first round matchup, Mapua nearly blew a 40-point lead but managed to stave off the late meltdown. The refereeing in the game, however, caused Coach Atoy’s now famous shirt-twriling meltdown which also gave him a one game suspension. “My boys did not give up. Maybe it inspired them when I got thrown out. I do not know why the referee threw me out on my first technical foul. Sabi ni Bai, [this happened because] of my first ejection when I took of my shirt,” the fiery coach said.
This season’s host school were without the services of Andretti Stevens, who suffered a knee injury early in the season, and Josan Nimes, who re-aggravated his hamstring injury. The Mapua role players did the heavy-lifting in their eighth win of the season with Nieles earning player of the game honors with 10 markers. Senior Mark Braña contributed 10 points while Justine Serrano had 15 markers which includes three hits from the beyond the arc.
Retuning from a four-game suspension, Gabayni led all scorers with 21 points on 9/12 shooting while also gobbling up seven rebounds. Nguidjol had a miserable shooting game but made up for it by making all of his seven charities to finish with a double-double of 12 points and 12 boards. Lyceum played without starting point guard, Shaq Alanes who served his one game suspension.
The Mapua Cardinals (8-5) look to extend their winning streak to five games as they face the league leading Letran Knights on Tuesday, September 15 at 2:00pm while the Lyceum Pirates (3-11) face the San Beda Red Lions on Thursday, September 17 at 4:00pm.
MIT (70) – Serrano 15, Nieles 10, Brana 10, Oraeme 8, Menina 8, Isit, Que 6, Biteng 5, Aguirre 0, Layug 0, Raflores 0
LPU (66) – Gabayni 21, Balatazar 14, Nguidjol 12, Ayaay 8, Marata 3, Bulawan 3, Malabanan 2, Soliman 2, Sunga 1, Mbida 0, Lugo 0
Quarters: 25-12, 37-25, 58-45, 70-66.
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