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Stags end Lions 24-win run

Calvin Abueva, San Sebastian’s take-charge guy, chases a driving Michole Sorela of San Beda. JUN MENDOZA

MANILA, Philippines - San Sebastian fuelled its own streak with a game-long brilliance and in the process ended San Beda’s long 24-win run, 70-68, in a seesawing contest before a roaring crowd in the 87th NCAA men’s basketball tournament at The Arena in San Juan yesterday.

Calvin Abueva and Ronald Pascual, the leaders in the MVP race, combined for 13 of the team’s 17 fourth quarter points as they practically carried the Stags to the thrilling victory in a match that marked the end of the first round elims but which looked more of a championship game.

The arch-rivals battled through four deadlocks and nine lead changes in a highly physical contest with no team able to lead by more than seven points (SSC, 34-27) and it boiled down to an endgame where San Beda blew its chance with an off-the-mark triple by Dave Marcelo.

“We played a very good team but we were humbled by this experience,” said San Sebastian coach Topex Robinson, hoping to become the first coach to win a championship in his rookie season since San Beda’s Frankie Lim did the trick four years ago.

It was San Sebastian’s ninth straight win while dealing San Beda its first loss in nine games.

“As much as we want to celebrate this win, we couldn’t. We just won half of the battle so we need to work harder,” said Robinson.

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Earlier, Letran trampled Jose Rizal for a 70-59 win to remain at No. 3 with a 7-2 card, one game behind San Beda. JRU fell to 3-6.

With a 9-0 slate, the Stags are indeed far from their dream title run but having tamed the Lions, who swept last year’s crown with an 18-0 romp, things are looking up for the Recoletos-based squad.

“Now if we win the championship, that’s the right time to celebrate so we will celebrate this win for a couple of days and we’re back to business on Monday,” said Robinson.

Lim said it all boiled down to execution.

“We knew it’s going to be a tough one, we knew it’s going to be close but the other team is really strong and it boiled down to execution and defensive lapses, we couldn’t execute in the end,” he said.

Abueva and Pascual did almost everything for SSC, scoring 44 points between themselves, more than half of their squad’s total output. They also combined for 15 rebounds, eight assists, four steals and two blocks.

They made their presence most down the stretch as Abueva and Pascual scored, rebounded, defended and hustled to lift the team to the hard-earned win that sent San Sebastian’s fans into a frenzied celebration on the court and San Beda’s supporters dejected in a game watched by 4,550 paying patrons.

“I have to give it to my veteran guys, they hustled, defended, scored and rebounded at every opportunity. Defense and rebounding are really 10 percent technique and 90 percent effort so my hats off to them,” said Robinson.

The Lions had all the opportunities to turn things around in the clutch but they blew every single chance, including the last when Marcelo, a big man who probably hasn’t made a single attempt from beyond the arc, took a desperation triple from the right baseline that bounced off the rim for a play that was actually intended for Garvo Lanete.

There was the other play earlier set for Lanete but guard Anjo Caram, a player noted more for his defense, fired a shot from way out that missed its target and into the Stags’ hands.

“The two plays were supposed to be for Garvo but we couldn’t get it to him,” said Lim.

After the final buzzer sounded, the Stags stormed their way to the center court and celebrated as if they’ve just won the championship.

It was also sweet revenge for San Sebastian, which lost all its four games against San Beda last year, including their best-of-three title showdown.

“Ang sarap ng feeling (The feeling is good),” said Abueva and Pascual.

Lanete paced San Beda with 18 points, including 12 in the third period when the Lions turned a 27-34 deficit into a 55-53 lead. But he was shut down in the last quarter, failing to step up when the Lions needed him most/ Lim, however, took the loss in stride.

“I told the players after the game that we lost to San Sebastian and it’s not the end of the world, we still have a chance to get back,” he said.

NCAA Notes: San Beda patron and Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas president Manny V. Pangilinan along with boxing’s Ricky Vargas and Patrick Gregorio, watched the game before leaving with a couple of minutes to go. They went straight to the nearby Araneta Coliseum to watch Game 6 of the PBA Governors Cup finals between Petron Blaze and Talk N’ Text...

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