Defending champion San Beda came back from a seven-point deficit with five minutes remaining and stunned Mapua-Malayan, 81-78, to force a rubber match for the NCAA juniors basketball crown at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Carlo Obenza scored off a turnover to give the Red Cubs a 79-78 lead with 34.2 seconds remaining, before the rest of the team denied the Red Robins a chance to reclaim the driver seat to send the best-of-three series to a winner-take-all match on Friday.
Obenza finished with 19 points while Germy Mahinay added 13 points and seven rebounds for the San Beda cagers of coach JV Sison.
San Beda was on the brink of seeing its seven-year title run come to an end when Mapua took a 75-68 lead, five minutes to spare. But the Red Cubs answered with seven straight points, capped off by a three-point play by Mahinay with over two minutes to go.
Romuel Junsay scored 23 points for Mapua, which was denied of its first crack at winning its first juniors title since 2000.
Meanwhile, Mapua’s Allwell Oraeme was formally named as the league’s Most Valuable Player for the second straight year during a simple rites before Game 2 of the San Beda-Arellano seniors series.
Oraeme compiled 65.12 statistical points to capture the award by a wide margin over Arellano star Jio Jalalon, who had 57.50.
Both players were also named to the Mythical Five filled with foreign players. Other players who made the cut were University of Perpetual Help’s Nigerian center Bright Akhuetie with 56.00 points, Cameroonian Donald Tankoua of San Beda with 51.55 and compatriot Hamadou Laminou of Emilio Aguinaldo College with 49.05.
This year’s selection has been met with mixed reviews owing to the number of foreign players who made the list, prompting some fans to call for a change in the Mythical Five process.
NCAA Management Committee chairman Mari Lacson of host San Beda, however, defended the process which is based on the statistics compiled during the double-round eliminations.
SAN BEDA 81 – Obenza 19, Nayve 14, Mahinay 13, Nelle 9, Tagala 7, Etrata 6, Abu Hilje 5, Alfaro 4, Velasquez 4, Lagumen 0.
MAPUA 78 – Junsay 23, Salenga 15, Bonifacio 12, Escamis 8, Garcia 6, Gozum 5, Lacap 4, Enriquez 2, Ramos 2, Samudio 1, Dagta 0.
Quarters: 16-18; 33-41; 62-65; 81-78.