In the deep waters, Zamboanga would normally rely on Reed Juntilla and their prolific wing men. Rizal, in response, turned to their perimeter defense.
The Rizal Crusaders escaped with a 77-73 squeaker over the Zamboanga Valientes for their second win in the Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League (MPBL) Anta Datu Cup, held at the Pasig Sports Center.
It was a nip and tuck affair in the Tuesday night opener, as both team traded baskets and leads in the final two minutes of the game. Behind by six at the start of the final quarter, the Xentro Mall-backed Crusaders slowly crept behind the Valientes. Rizal’s James Abugan scored on a lay-up off a nifty crossover against Arden Guiyab to give the Crusaders a taste of the lead, 70-69, in the final 1:56.
The Family’s Brand Sardines-backed Valientes turned to Reed Juntilla for a response, as the veteran wingman scored four straight points to regain the lead for Zamboanga, 73-70. Juntilla’s lay-up off a Joemari Lacastesantos assist with 1:26 remaining turned out to be the final basket for the Ednie Morones-mentored Valientes, as Rizal mounted a 7-0 closing run to earn the victory.
After a Popoy Banzali game-tying three-pointer, Jerome Juanico scored on a fastbreak lay-up to give the Crusaders a 75-73 advantage with just 42 ticks remaining. Rizal’s defense would force Zamboanga to miss two crucial jump shots inside the last 35 seconds. Marco Balagtas would then score on a shot clock buzzer-beating short stab off a Jerome Juanico pass to close out the game in favour of Rizal.
For Crusaders head coach Braulio Lim, their defensive focus, especially in the endgame, zeroed in on Juntilla and the other wing players of the Valientes. “Sabi ko lang kay (Jerome) Juanico, pahirapan lang niya talaga si Juntilla. Nagawa naman niya yung trabaho nya. Bilib ako sa depensa ng players namin,” said Lim.
“Naging successful yung practice naming lalo na sa depensa. Yung composition ng team ng Zamboanga, ang gagaling nung mga wing nila. Kung ma-stop namin yung wing players nila, may chance kami.”
Balagtas came off the bench to pace Rizal with 15 points on 7-of-11 (63%) field goal shooting, along with eight rebounds. Abugan and Banzali chipped in 14 and 12 markers, respectively.
Juntilla was the lone double-digit scorer for Zamboanga, tallying game-high 19 points.
With the hard-earned win, the Crusaders (2-5) snapped a two-game losing streak, while the Valientes dropped to 4-3.
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