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MANILA, Philippines – The twice-to-beat Che’lu San Sebastian College Revellers staged an 80-72 comeback victory to eliminate the 5th-seeded Gamboa-St. Clare Coffee Lovers at the kick-off of the PBA D-League Aspirants Cup playoffs on Tuesday, April 10.
With the win, Che’lu now moves on to face the first-seeded Akari-Adamson Falcons, who clinched the top spot and outright semis berth after their final regular-season win against JRU.
Jeff Viernes returned from a pro ball stint in Thailand to lead Che’lu with 22 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists off the bench. Kent Ilagan made up for a dismal first 3 quarters and led the Revellers’ comeback with an 8-point rally in the clutch to end with 10 points and 9 boards.
However, it was the do-or-die Gamboa who led for a majority of the game. Chris Bitoon made that happen with a red-hot 8-0 personal run in the first quarter to lead Gamboa at 10-4. He ended the period with 12 points as his team led 27-16.
Bitoon drained another triple early in the second for the 34-26 lead, but Che’lu slowly chipped away with Viernes at the helm. Four different players scored in a quarter-ending 8-0 run as Gamboa clung to a 3-point lead at the half, 40-37.
The Coffee Lovers again extended to a small 52-45 lead, but Samboy De Leon erased that with back-to-back fastbreak layups to inch within 3 once more, 49-52. Gamboa ended the 3rd 56-52 off two foul shots from speedy reserve Joshua Fontanilla.
At the payoff period, De Leon sank a corner triple to tie the game at 58 for the first time since the opening quarter. This would spark a 13-3 run that included back-to-back long bombs and a putback lay-in from Ilagan. All of a sudden, Che’lu held a 66-60 lead in the last 4 minutes and never looked back. Fontanilla and Mohammad Pare tried to mount a comeback, but former AMA big man Jay-R Taganas bullied down low for an and-one to seal the deal.
Five players scored in double-figures for Gamboa’s last stand, led by Bitoon who ended with 19 points after a blazing first quarter. Meanwhile, Pare anchored the team on both ends with 12 points and a game-high 16 boards for the double-double finish.
Che’lu-SSC (80) – Viernes 22, Ilagan 10, De Leon 9, Ablaza 9, Bulanadi 7, Costelo 6, Batino 6, Taganas 5, Collado 4, Faundo 2
Gamboa-St. Clare (72) – Bitoon 19, Fontanilla 13, Pare 12, Dionisio 12, Jackson 11, Rubio 5, Hallare 0
Quarter Scores: 16-27, 37-40, 52-56, 80-72.