Blazers burn Lions; Cards finally in flight
MANILA, Philippines - (UPDATED) St. Benilde held its ground against San Beda in a close duel in the first three quarters then put on a strong finishing kick to shock the erstwhile unbeaten four-peat champions, 83-76, and nail its third straight win in the 90th NCAA men’s basketball tournament at The Arena in San Juan yesterday.
Skipper Mark Romero exploded for 12 fourth quarter points as the Blazers took control late in the match then thwarted the Red Lions’ repeated comebacks with gutsy plays and clutch baskets to pound out the victory.
Romero, a 23-year-old graduating Hotel and Restaurant Management student, finished with 20 points he topped with a team-high six assists for the surging Blazers, who notched their third straight win after opening their campaign with three losses in row.
The setback, San Beda’s first after sweeping its first five matches, also enabled the idle Arellano U Chiefs to tie the Lions at the helm.
It was also St. Benilde’s first victory over San Beda since it won via forfeiture after former Lion Sam Ekwe of Nigeria used a wrong set of uniform six years ago.
The last win by the Blazers over the Lions on the court came nine years ago – a 91-86 overtime victory in the second round of elimination.
“It was sweet for me because I’ve never really won against San Beda in my years with St. Benilde,” said Romero.
The victory was doubly sweeter for St. Benilde coach Gabby Velasco that he likened it to winning a championship.
“It was a nice feeling to beat a powerhouse team in San Beda. It was like we have won a championship,” said Velasco.
Mapua completed the day of upsets after it stunned San Sebastian, 89-81, to snap its six-game losing skid.
Jessie Saitanan paced the Cardinals with 24 points and nine rebounds.
“We’re happy we finally won,” said Mapua coach Atoy Co, whose target this season is to surpass their three-win mark last year.
The Stags fell to 3-3.
Romero scored six unanswered points to shatter the 71-all count, then Juan Paolo Taha and Jonathan Grey and the rest stepped up to provide the needed backup. Taha and Grey finished with 16 and 15 points, respectively.