MANILA, Philippines – The Mapua University Red Robins stood tall after a wild finish to overcome La Salle Greenhills, 77-74, in the do-or-die Game 3 of the NCAA Season 94 juniors basketball finals on Thursday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
The Red Robins squandered a 17-point lead, with the Junior Blazers mounting a furious comeback in the final frame. Mythical Team member Inand Fornillos tied the count at 74 with two minutes left to play.
But a split at the line by Dan Arches pushed Mapua back ahead. Off a steal, Arches then converted a lay-up that made it 77-74, with still 64 seconds left to play in the game.
However, the Red Robins repeatedly kept the door open for the Junior Blazers to make a comeback. Arches committed a backing violation with 35 seconds to go, only for LSGH star Joel Cagulangan to badly misfire on a three-pointer.
Forced to foul, the Junior Blazers sent Karl Mariano to the line – who then proceeded to brick both of his charities with 17.7 seconds left to play.
The Red Robins forced Joshua David to miss from beyond the arc in the ensuing possession, and had already begun celebrating when the officials announced that there was still 0.5 second left on the clock.
When the game re-started, David knocked down a three-pointer from the top of the key, but after a long review, officials did not count the basket – allowing the Red Robins to once again celebrate.
This was Mapua's 22nd high school basketball crown, tying San Beda University for most in NCAA history.
Paolo Hernandez led the way for the Red Robhins with 33 points and 12 rebounds, while Arches finished with 22 points though he only shot 9-of-27 from the field. No other Mapua player reached double-digits.
Fornillos had a double-double of 18 points and 11 rebounds, while David finished with 13 markers for the Junior Blazers. Cagulangan, the league MVP, had 10 points on 3-of-11 shooting.
LSGH trailed, 71-56, heading into the fourth frame, but held the Red Robins scoreless in the first five minutes of the payoff period to claw their way back in the contest.
It was a heartbreaking loss for the Junior Blazers, who had beaten Mapua in the finals last year, then claimed a 1-0 lead in the best-of-3 finals series with a 74-69 triumph in Game 1.
However, the Red Robins – playing without ace guard Clint Escamis – came through with back-to-back triumphs to avenge last season's defeat and secure the NCAA juniors title for the second time in three years.
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