Guard Darell Menina preserved the game-long dominance of reigning league MVP Allwell Oraeme by hitting clutch baskets in the stretch as Mapua eliminated defending champion Letran from Final Four contention in the 92nd NCAA seniors basketball tourney with a 77-72 victory on Tuesday at The Arena in San Juan City.
Menina banged in eight of his 12 points in the final frame, highlighted by a go-ahead triple off an Oraeme feed that sparked the Cardinals’ breakaway from a 67-all count with more than two minutes to play.
Aside from sweeping Letran in their head-to-head matchup in the eliminations, Mapua improved to 10-5, assuring itself of a playoff for a fourth and final semifinals berth. Letran saw its title reign end by dropping to an 8-9 mark.
“It’s a good feeling,” said the 6-foot-9 Oraeme, who banged in game-highs of 21 points and 26 rebounds on top of 3 assists and 2 blocks, visibly pleased with how the Cardinals returned the favor to the Knights, who gave them the big boot in the semis on the way to the crown.
“We finally get a win to inch closer towards the last spot in the playoffs. This is a more satisfactory victory for us and I’m very happy about it,” he added.
Rey Nambatac finished with a team-high 19 points and recovered from an apparent left ankle sprain early in the final frame while four other teammates scored at least 10 markers but the Knights still came up short.
The Knights became the first defending champion not to advance to the Final Four round since another Letran group suffered the same fate in 2000.
MAPUA (77) – Oraeme 21, Eriobu 12, Menina 12, Aguirre 12, Victoria 9, Isit 6, Bunag 3, Estrella 2, Orquina 0, Raflores 0, Serrano 0
LETRAN (72) – Nambatac 19, Quinto 16, Sollano 10, Calvo 10, Balanza 10, Luib 3, Apreku 2, Ambohot 2, Dela Pena 0, Balagasay 0, Ular 0
Quarterscores: 15-7, 39-29, 60-49, 77-72