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Sweet 16: Pampanga overpowers Nueva Ecija in MPBL ‘Battle of Titans’


In a battle of two powerhouse teams in the Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League, Pampanga’s depth proved to be too much for defending champion Nueva Ecija, taking a 76-64 victory to remain unblemished in 16 games on Saturday inside a jampacked Bren Guiao Convention Center.

Justine Baltazar, the leading candidate to win league MVP, tallied another 20-20 game, finishing with 22 points and 24 rebounds to go along with four steals and two blocks.

With the multiple-time UAAP Mythical Team member leading the way, the Giant Lanterns overhauled a 33-31 halftime deficit into a 56-44 cushion late in the third canto.

The closest the Rice Vanguards got in the final frame was down seven before Louie Sangalang, Encho Serrano, and Baltazar strung together eight straight points for a 70-55 lead that took the fight out of Nueva Ecija.

A scary moment took place with 1:02 left when Baltazar and Sangalang banged knees. Baltazar though assured that it was nothing serious despite him clinging to his right knee when he was brought out of the game.

Serrano added 15 points on 14 attempts while Sangalang got 13 points and seven rebounds.

Letran’s Kurt Reyson also chipped in 10 points.

The Rice Vanguards, who fell to 14-2, was paced by Roi Sumang with 15 points.

Michael Juico chipped in 10 points and nine rebounds. Will McAloney, who was averaging 14.8 points and 8.0 rebounds prior to the game, was limited to just 10 points and five rebounds.

Fans started lining up at the venue as early as 11:00 AM. Aware that thousands of fans couldn’t be accommodated inside, two giant LED screens were put up at the grandstand and at the side of the sports complex by the provincial government.

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The game was also a big hit on social media, reaching a peak of 65,000 viewers on Facebook Live.

MPBL Founder and CEO Manny Pacquiao watched the game between the two teams likely to contend for the North division crown and was given a rousing welcome by the loud but disciplined crowd.

Bataan and Rizal XentroMall emerged as the winners of earlier games.

James Castro made all of his four charities in the last 27 seconds as Bataan nipped Valenzuela XUR Homes Realty Inc., 80-76, while Rizal subdued Bacolod, 72-63.

The Bataan Risers halted a five-game slide and climbed to 7-10 behind Dan Sara’s 16-point, 10-rebound, 6-assist, 5-steal effort, Yves Sazon’s 14-point, 3-rebound output, and Robbi Darang’s 12-point, 5-rebound, 5-assist, 3-steal contribution.

Bataan, which Frederick Francisco coached for the first time, also drew 8 points and 8 rebounds from Jamil Gabawan, 7 points plus 5 rebounds from Castro, and 7 points from Jasper Longalong.

Troy Mallillin shone for Rizal, which improved its record to 7-11, with 13 points and 13 rebounds to go with 3 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks, followed by Jonas Tibayan with 10 points.

Bacolod fell to 6-11 as only Dom Matillano could tally 10 points.

The MPBL visits the Cuneta Astrodome on Monday with Batangas tangling with Bicol at 4:00 PM. Meanwhile, Manila battles San Juan at 6:00 PM, and Imus will test Pasay at 8:00 PM.

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