MANILA, Philippines – The College of Saint Benilde Blazers outlasted the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons in a 76-74 thriller to reach the semifinal round of the Filoil Flying V Preseason Cup on Wednesday, June 28.
A clutch coast-to-coast basket by Unique Naboa with 12.7 seconds left gave the Blazers a slim 75-74 lead before a Carlo Young free throw sealed the win in their knockout quarterfinal match at the Filoil Flying V Arena in San Juan.
“From day one… it was all about defense. I think [those identities] held it through all the way until the end of the game,” said Blazers coach TY Tang.
The Blazers’ relentless defense led to a crucial turnover by UP’s Paul Desiderio and a steal by St. Benilde’s Justin Gutang with 3.3 seconds left. A foul then sent Young to the free throw line where he converted one of two shots.
Senegalese big man Clement Leutcheu had 16 points and 7 rebounds as the Blazers snapped the Fighting Maroons’ 6-game winning streak.
Tang said his players crafted a new team slogan – “We are here, united as one” – during their team-building last weekend.
“The biggest change that we have in this team right now is their solidarity,” said Tang. “[The motto] showed that they want to be together in everything that they do right now, whether it’s on the court or off the court.”
Yankie Haruna notched 15 points, 4 rebounds and 4 steals, while Naboa contributed 12 points.
Gutang rounded out the double-digit scorers with 11 points, 9 from 3-point range, on top of 8 assists.
Nigerian center Bright Akhuetie carried the Maroons with 22 points built on an 82% shooting and 9 rebounds.
Desiderio poured in 15 points on a 3-of-4 shooting clip from deep to go with 3 assists and 3 steals, while Jun Manzo chipped in 10 points and 5 assists.
The Blazers pulled off the win despite an injury on JJ Domingo, who went down with a sprained angle midway through the third quarter.
Tang hopes the the Blazers will ride on the momentum going into the semifinals.
“What’s more important to me is the [experience] of this kind of environment. We’ve never played a win-or-go-home game yet ever,” he said.
“This is what’s going to carry us through in this [coming] NCAA season,” he added.
ST. BENILDE (76) – Leutcheu 16, Haruna 15, Naboa 12, Gutang 11, Young 8, Domingo 8, Pasturan 2, Belgica 2, Pagulayan 2
UP (74) – Akhuetie 22, Desiderio 15, Manzo 10, Jaboneta 8, Javi Gomez de Liano 6, Juan Gomez de Liano 6, Murrell 3, Prado 2, Dario 2
Quarter Scores: 18-16, 39-37, 58-54, 76-74
– Franco Luna/Rappler.com