MANILA, Philippines – Jose Rizal University stayed on the hunt for a Final Four slot after subduing College of St. Benilde, 62-56, in the 88th season of NCAA men's basketball tournament at the Fil-Oil Flying V Arena in San Juan Monday.
Nate Matute delivered the crucial blows in the payoff period, scoring seven points in the last four minutes to save the Heavy Bombers from a potential meltdown.
Matute drilled in a crucial jumper after the Blazers cut the lead to only one, then followed it up with a back-breaking trey to take a 56-51 cushion at the 3:50 mark.
Carlo Lastimosa converted on a forceful drive while Jonathan Grey split his freebies to help Benilde inch closer again, 54-56. But Matute stopped the bleeding with two free throws of his own for a 58-54 JRU advantage with 1:02 remaining.
The Bombers then preserved the win with heady plays the rest of the way, with Michael Mabulac sinking four clutch free throws to put away the Blazers for good.
"I just wanted to get the win. We don't have a sure spot in the Final Four yet so I just stepped up for my team," said Matute.
"I've been struggling lately. I just got the confidence back. Hopefully this would be the start. We'll see from here," he added.
Mabulac and John Lopez scored 16 points apiece for the Bombers, who bucked the absence of injured starting guard Alex Almario and backup guard Ivan Camasura.
"We'll take it one game at time and I don't want to pressure them so I keep on telling them to just relax and enjoy the game," said JRU coach Vergel Meneses.
Lastimosa paced the Blazers with 15 points while Mark Romero added 10 markers for the Taft-based squad.
JRU thus forced a three-way tie with Letran and Perpetual with identical 9-6 win-loss cards. Benilde fell to a lowly 4-11 mark.