MANILA, Philippines - Another classic tight battle was what Jose Rizal University (JRU) had to survive against the pesky Mapua Cardinals in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) men’s basketball at The Arena in San Juan City.
The Heavy Bombers leaned on the 4th-quarter heroics of veteran bigman Marvin Hayes and Cameroonian center Joe Etame to seal the victory and go to the next step of challenging second-ranked San Sebastian College on Friday for the right to face San Beda in a thrice to beat finals next week.
JRU was ahead all of the first half with their lead even reaching as high as 8 points in the first quarter. But Mapua refused to let the Heavy Bombers take full control and pull away.
The Cardinals hung tough and kept the game close the whole second quarter but failed to take the lead despite having several opportunities to surge ahead.
The third quarter saw Mapua jump ahead 34-32, thanks to Michael Parala's jumper. A 3-pointer by JRU's Alex Almario took the lead back for JRU. A see-saw battle then ensued the rest of the quarter.
Etame ended the quarter with 4 straight points to tie the match at 42. The Cameroonian's late surge was a sign of things to come in the 4th quarter.
Etame and Hayes combined early with inside incursions to give JRU breathing room early in final quarter 48-42.
From then on, every Mapua rally was answered by the stifling defense of JRU.
The Heavy Bombers saw key baskets from Etame at the end that gave him 10 of his season high 17 points. The Heavy Bombers took the win, 60-54.
JRU head coach Vergel Meneses was relieved to get the win, and thanked his big man and veteran for stepping up.
"Joe was big today. We have been patient with him and we were lucky to get him the ball in the right spots that made it easy for him to score," Meneses candidly shared about his 6'8" center.
"Hayes was also big. His veteran leadership mattered a lot in the end game," he added.
On Friday, JRU goes up against second-ranked San Sebastian in a knockout for a finals seat and a chance to face San Beda, who will enjoy a thrice-to-beat advantage.
Meneses, for his part, hopes that even if San Sebastian beat them twice this year, his boys could put it behind them and take the game as a big challenge to step up and barge into the finals.