By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
THE COLLEGE of Saint Benilde Blazers survived a tough challenge from the Emilio Aguinaldo College Generals in their National Collegiate Athletic Association Season 95 debut on Tuesday, holding on to a narrow 69-66 victory at the FilOil Flying V Arena in San Juan City.
Had its way for much of the contest, CSB received a spirited fight-back from EAC down the stretch but did just enough to keep its head afloat to book its first victory in the brand-new season of the country’s oldest collegiate league.
The game got off to a competitive start with both teams making runs and counter-runs.
CSB, however, was able to create some separation, led by Justin Gutang, as the opening quarter drew to a close, building a 17-12 advantage.
The Blazers maintained the momentum to begin the second quarter, outscoring the Generals, 7-2, in the first three minutes to stretch their lead to 10 points, 24-14.
JC Luciano and JP Maguliano tried to rally the Generals back and make up for lost ground but saw themselves continue to trail, 37-23, at the half.
Recognizing that the game was slipping from their hands, the Generals came out the third quarter with more life.
They were able to get some early traction only to find a Gutang-led Blazers standing its ground.
The score was at 44-29, and CSB on top, by the 5:43 mark of the frame before eventually settling at 57-44 heading into the fourth quarter.
With control of the much, the Blazers went for an early finish, extending their lead to 17 points, 65-48, with just three minutes lapsing as guard Unique Naboa and center Kendrix Balgica started to make their presence felt.
But EAC was undeterred and on the lead of Jethro Mendoza they went on an 11-0 run in the next two minutes to trim its deficit to a single digit, 65-59.
The Generals kept pushing forward, down by just two points, 67-65, entering the last two minutes.
Both teams had their chances to advance their respective causes as time wore down.
A split on the charity lane by Jimboy Pasturan made it a three-point lead for CSB, 68-65, with eight seconds remaining.
EAC came two within two points, 68-66, after Marwin Taywan hit one of two free throws with three seconds left.
The Generals were forced to foul off a CSB timeout but Pasturan once again split his charities, opening the door still for the Generals, 69-66, with 2.4 seconds to go.
They set up for a three-point shot to tie the contest but Maguliano’s desperation heave failed to hit the mark, preserving the win for the Blazers.
Pasturan led CSB with 19 points with Gutang adding a double-double of 17 points and 12 rebounds in the win.
The Blazers played sans key cogs Yankie Haruna and Clement Leutcheu who were out because of injuries.
For EAC it was Maguliano who top-scored with 18 points, followed by Mendoza with 16.