BACOOR — Teams bunched up at the lower half of the standings had to make their move in time for the playoffs.
The Pampanga Lanterns did just that as the team from northern Luzon outlasted the Pasay Voyagers, 86-83, in a crucial victory in the MPBL Datu Cup at the Strike Gymnasium here.
So crucial was Pampanga’s win that it catapulted the squad to No. 7 spot of the tough northern division of this tournament put up by Senator Manny Pacquiao with PBA legend Kenneth Duremdes serving as commissioner.
The Lanters now improved their win-loss record to 7-10 while the loss dropped the Voyagers into a tie for ninth to 10th spots with the Valenzuela Classic with the same 6-10 record.
Pasay played without head coach Cholo Martin, who was suspended by the league. He will serve his last suspended game during his team’s next meeting.
“This win is very important sa amin kasi nga dikit-dikit yung standings,” said Pampanga coach Aldrin Morante. “Talagang naghanda kami against Pasay kasi mayroong time na naka-apat na sunod silang panalo. Binantayan namin talaga mga shooters nila.”
Pampanga drew big games from Levi Hernandez and Michael Juico as the two ex-PBA players combined for 39 points while Pari Llagas contributed 14 markers.
Jimbo Aquino also stepped up when needed, hitting a crucial three-point basket in the last 1:38 that gave the Lanterns an 83-79 lead.
But the Voyagers responded quickly as baskets from Jan Jamon and Bobby Balucanag knotted the count at 83-all.
Hernandez, however, put the Lanterns back on the driver’s seat as his off balance twinner gave his team an 85-83 lead with still 42 seconds remaining.
The Voyagers had a chance to level the score again when Yvan Ludovice was fouled, but the cool and calculating guard muffed both charities.
In the next play, Jan Jamon forced Juico to turn the ball over, but the former, who had a chance to give Pasay a potential game-leading trey, missed from the right quarter court.
Juico raced down court and was fouled. He split his free throws for the final tally.
Known for its firepower, Pampanga also played with a conscious effort in grabbing the rebounds. The Strikers outrebounded their rivals, 59-40.
Three players came away with a double-digit effort in rebounding for the Lanterns.
Pari Llagas had 13 boards to go along with 14 markers. Juico, once the scoring leader of the team, grabbed 11 rebounds while Juneric Baloria pulled down 10.
Pasay was led by Bobby Balucanag’s double-double performance of 20 points and 16 rebounds, but the team absorbed back-to-back setbacks.