Challenged by Arellano U coach Jerry Codiñera to hold his ground against Lyceum’s imposing import Mike Nzeusseu, Chiefs’ big man Dioncee Holts responded on the biggest way possible.
The 6-foot-6 American flashed his dominant form of old on Tuesday, leading Arellano U to an 81-76 victory over Lyceum and into a share of second spot in the 92nd NCAA seniors basketball tourney at The Arena in San Juan City.
The league’s Rookie of the Year awardee two years ago when they made it to their first-ever finals, Holts waxed hot with 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting from the field on top of 15 rebounds, three assists and two blocks, helping the Chiefs neutralise Nzeusseu on the way to their third consecutive victory and sixth overall in eight matches, tying fellow red-hot Perpetual Help at second place.
“Finally, he was able to play like when he was just a rookie before,” said Codiñera during the post-match interview, with Holts sitting beside him. “Siyempre masaya ako that I can still see his strengths. Even though it’s late in the first round, he’s still there for the team.”
The 6-foot-6 Nzeusseu banged in a game-high 24 markers, half of them coming in the final canto, and hauled down 17 rebounds, nine of them on the offensive end, but the Pirates still came up short in overhauling a seven-point deficit in the final minute, no thanks to Reymar Caduyac’s wild three-point shot in the closing seconds.
That was Caduyac’s 13th miss from 15 attempts in a game-long shooting struggle, hastening the Pirates’ downfall to a 3-5 mark.
And Holts clearly turned out to be the biggest thorn on Lyceum’s side.
“I made him commit that he has to double his efforts against Mike. Sabi niya, “Yeah. I’ll take care of it.’ Maganda rin naman ang ginawa niya with the rebounds and points,” noted Codiñera.
Holts’ brilliance came at a more opportune time when AU’s star playmaker Jiovani Jalalon, who was celebrating his 23rd birthday, was slowed down by foul woes in the second half, enabling Lyceum to charge back from 13 points down and repeatedly threaten in the crunch.
“I always tell our teammates that Jiovani is our main guy. He’s gonna lead us so my job is to let others follow,” said Holts of Jalalon, who finished with 13 points seven assists, three rebounds and a steal. “I feel like it worked for us.”
Asked if he’s considering his breakout performance so far this year as a perfect birthday present to Jalalon, Holts said: “You could look at it that way. I kinda promised him before the game.
“Every day, he always kinda keep me motivated,” added Holts. “Every time I have a bad game, I always have my teammates to keep me up. “Today I just promise to myself that I have to keep this (high) level (of play.”
While he clearly held his own against Nzeusseu, Holts said he’s just doing what he’s supposed to do for the Chiefs.
“He’s strong but I just did what I had to do. I just looked after at our bigs. And the important thing is to get rebounds. And I feel we control the rebounding, we have better chances to win the game.”
Exactly. The Chiefs barely won their rebounding battle 56-54, spiked by 26 offensive rebounds, six of them off Holts. – By Jerome Lagunzad
ARELLANO U (81) – Holts 20, Salado 17, Jalalon 13, Nicholls 11, Flores 10, Cadavis 4, Villoria 3, Meca 2, Aguilar 1, Gumaru 0, Gupilan 0, Enriquez 0, Canete 0
LYCEUM (76) – Nzeusseu 24, Alanes 14, Ayaay 8, Magbuhos 8, Marata 6, Serafico 6, Caduyac 5, Baltazar 3, Soliman 2, Alban 0, Malabanan 0
Quarterscores: 16-14, 37-29, 58-54, 81-76.