BACOOR — Lowly Rizal pulled off a king size upset win over inaugural staging champion Batangas City and lifted its confidence halfway the elimination round of the MPBL Lakan Season Tuesday night at the Strike Gymnasium here.
Staring at a six-game losing binge, the Xentro Mall backed-Golden Coolers rallied from 20 points down in the second period.
“I have to start from the beginning that I want breaks to fall my way,” Rizal coach JV Gayoso told FOX Sports Philippines. “Yung mga clear shots nila, hindi pumasok, luckily for us. That’s what helped us back into the ball game. We wanted to limit the turnovers and we just attacked. My instruction was, If hindi sila bumaba kaagad, atakihin na namin agad dahil mabagal sila mag back pedal. We had to run.”
Rizal committed only nine turnovers, a franchise low and picked up eight steals.
Batangas City played without Jeff Viernes, but was still able to control the game. The team was still ahead, 72-60, after Jason Melano converted on a lay-up in the 5:31 mark of the final quarter.
But the Athletics experienced a three-minute dry spell and the Golden Coolers took advantage, unloading 11 unanswered points, capped by Mark Benitez’s triple that shoved Rizal within striking distance, 72-71.
After Melano scored on a drive in the next play, Benitez hit another trey. Batangas City missed their last five possessions and turned the ball over twice.
Two free throws from Benitez in the last 36 seconds gave Rizal the lead, 76-74.
Jayvee Vidal’s lay-up with 13 seconds to go put more pressure on the side of the inaugural staging champion, but Melano was able to retaliate with a quick basket at the other end to make it a 78-76 game.
The Tanduay-supported Athletics forced a five-second violation during a half court inbound play for Rizal and had a chance to snatch a win, but Denice Villamor missed a potential game winning shot as time expired.
“Nalaman ko lang na wala si Jeff Viernes pagdating dito,” added Gayoso. “What we really wanted to do was maintain a zone. Kapag one-on-one, kakainin kami ni Jeff. Kapag sona, hindi siya makakapenetrate. I would rather have anybody take the shot than Jeff Viernes, so salamat sa iyo.”
Benitez ended up with a career-high 27 points, built around six three-point shots.