MANILA, Philippines -- College of St. Benilde outplayed Perpetual Help in the stretch to escape with a come-from-behind 77-73 victory on Wednesday to enter the magic four in the 90th NCAA basketball tournament at The Arena in San Juan City.
The Blazers outscored the Altas, 15-4, in the final six minutes to turn a seven-point deficit into their fifth victory against four losses. They now join the Altas and the Lyceum Pirates in a three-way logjam at No. 3 at the end of the first round of elimination.
Benilde's matched its total win output from last season with still the whole second round left in the schedule, a significant feat for a school with a reputation going into this season of blowing won games.
"We're happy we've made a big leap but there is nothing to celebrate about yet because we're only halfway through the eliminations," said St. Benilde coach Gabby Velasco.
The Altas squandered a 13-point third-quarter lead but then recovered to take a one-point lead in the stretch. However, they imploded again the rest of the way.
The last straw was when Juneric Baloria missed two of three free throws with 3.2 seconds. The Lanao del Norte native would have tied the match and force overtime if he had made all of his foul shots.
Jonathan Grey led his team with 19 points, while Luis Sinco, Mark Romero and Roberto Bartolo, Jr. chipped in 15, 13 and 12 points, respectively, to help the Blazers make it to the upper half of the standings for the first time in the season.
Baloria wound up pacing the Altas with 22 points, while Earl Scottie Thompson added 20 in the losing cause.
Meanwhile, the NCAA will hold its first-ever All-Star game by pitting the league's cream of the crop divided into two teams -- the East and West -- on Saturday at The Arena in San Juan City.
The event, which will also feature a slam dunk competition and a three-point shootout at 1:30 p.m., is set at 3 p.m. to be preceded by a Ms. NCAA beauty pageant at 10:30 a.m.
NCAA Management Committee chairman Paul Supan of Jose Rizal said the proceeds of the All-Star will go to charity.
St. Benilde 77 - Gray 19, Sinco 15, Romero 13, Bartolo 12, Taha 9, Saavedra 4, Nayve 3, Ongtenco 2, Mercado 0, Altamirano 0, Deles 0
Perpetual 73 - Baloria 22, Thompson 20, Arboleda 12, Alano 11, Bantayan 3, Jolangcob 3, Gallardo 2, Dizon 0, Ylagan 0 Lucente 0, Pido 0
Quarterscores: 11-14; 37-41; 58-63; 77-73