For the first time in the 93rd Season of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, Lyceum of the Philippines University needed Mike Nzeusseu to impose his will down low.
That’s exactly what the Cameroonian did on Friday at the Filoil Flying V Arena as he overwhelmed Colegio de San Juan de Letran’s undermanned frontline in the Pirates’ 75-68 come-from-behind win.
Behind Nzeusseu’s powerful 13-point, 15-rebound double-double, LPU remained perfect and registered another new best start to the season in school history now at 8-0.
The league-leaders actually found themselves trailing by as much as 17, 20-37, in the second quarter as the Knights stymied their run game. “I’m just so proud of these guys dahil hindi talaga sila sumuko,” assistant coach Jeff Perlas said post-game.
Letran began to ran out of steam in the third quarter, however, as the Pirates slowly but surely chipped away at the former’s once imposing lead.
Making matters worse, Daryl Pascual and then Alex Mandreza fouled out, handicapping even more the Knights’ frontline that already didn’t have injured Jeo Ambohot. “I was challenging Mike, the players of Letran are already tired so you have to get those rebounds,” Perlas said.
Nzeusseu only responded to the challenge and in the final frame, made his presence felt on both ends. By his lonesome, he collected eight points, 10 rebounds, and two blocks while in the same timeframe, all of their opponetns only had nine points and seven rebounds.
Still, the game was far from over with less than a minute to play as JP Calvo pulled Letran to within 66-70.
Unfortunately, an unsportsmanlike foul was assessed on Jerrick Balanza for his challenge of the Pirates’ big man.
Five free throws from Nzeusseu, MJ Ayaay, and Reymar Caduyac later and LPU came out on top in this version of The Battle of Intramuros. “Siguro, nag-take effect din yung mas deeper and bench namin towards the end,” Perlas said.
Caduyac wound up with 12 points, all coming from free throws, while Ayaay also added seven points and 11 rebounds.
Of course, CJ Perez was also there with 14 points and five rebounds. “CJ was actually having a bad game, pero in the end, crucial yung three points niya,” the assistant coach said, referring to their top gun’s 6-of-19 shooting from the field.
Through total team effort, the Pirates overcame the absence of head coach Topex Robinson who was serving a one-game suspension. “Of course, every time na wala yung pinaka-ulo ng team, it’s a rallying point for the players,” Perlas said.
Robinson will be back next game, however, as they try to complete a clean sweep of the first round on Tuesday still at the same venue.
Rey Nambatac paced Letran with 16 points and six rebounds.
He and his team found no answer for Nzeusseu, however, and saw their four-game winning streak come to an end.
Still, their 5-4 standing is good for solo third.
LPU 75 – Perez 14, Nzeusseu 13, Marcelino JC 13, Caduyac 12, Ayaay 7, Baltazar 5, Marcelino JV 4, Ibanez 4, Tansingco 2, Pretta 1, Marata 0
LETRAN 68 – Nambatac 16, Calvo 11, Quinto 10, Balanza 8, Balagasay 6, Mandreza 6, Taladua 5, Caralipio 4, Pascual 2, Gedaria 0, Vacaro 0, Bernabe 0
QUARTER SCORES: 18-26, 35-44, 53-59, 75-68
This story was originally published on the ABS-CBN Sports website.