By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
Senior Reporter
THE Mapua Cardinals won back-to-back games for the first time in Season 94 of the National Collegiate Athletic Association after beating the College of Saint Benilde Blazers, 86-83, on Tuesday at the FilOil Flying V Centre in San Juan City.
Victorious in their previous match, the Cardinals streaked to a second win with a gallant stand against the Blazers, going on a fast start and maintaining poise in the end to book the victory.
Mapua had control of the opening half, banking on its running game led by Noah Lugo, Denniel Aguirre, and Arvin Gamboa.
The Cardinals held a 28-19 lead at the end of the first quarter and continued to hold sway by the halftime break, 49-35.
In the third quarter, the Blazers started to make their move back, led by Justin Gutang.
They would manage to come within arm’s reach on several occasions but Mapua would find ways to stave them off and remain in control, 63-55, heading into the final frame.
With the outcome pretty much open, the two teams fought it off to begin the fourth canto.
The Blazers were unrelenting in their charge back, and successfully seized the lead, 70-69, at the 6:12 mark off three straight free throws from guard Unique Naboa.
But instead of caving in to the St. Benilde assault, Mapua stood its ground, outscoring the Blazers, 11-3, towed by Laurenz Victoria and Justin Serrano, to reestablish control, 80-73, with two and a half minutes to go.
St. Benilde made a last-ditch effort to salvage the win, coming to within two points, 82-80, with 57 seconds left after Clement Letcheu converted an and-one play.
That was the closest the Taft-based dribblers would get though as Victoria and the rest of the Cardinals iced the game and held on for the victory.
Victoria paced Mapua with 16 points, six rebounds and six assists followed by rookie Warren Bonifacio and Serrano with 12 points apiece.
Lugo finished with 11 points while Cedric Pelayo had 10 before fouling out.
Gutang, meanwhile, had all-around numbers of 22 points, nine rebounds and six assists for the Blazers.
James Pasturan had 16 while Letcheu had 15 points and seven boards.
Naboa and Rob Nayve each wound up with 10 points for the Blazers.
“Our system held in this game. We moved the ball well. We still had some mistakes along the way but good thing the players bounced back and did not allow their mistakes to affect them too much,” said winning coach Atoy Co after the game.
With the win, Mapua chalked up two straight victories for the first time in the ongoing season and improved to 4-8 while St. Benilde dropped to 7-5 and has lost back-to-back.