By Ivan Saldajeno
MANILA--Jerome Juanico put up his best performance yet in the MPBL Datu Cup, but it eventually hardly mattered as Rizal squandered a huge lead and fell to Valenzuela, 74-76, at their homecourt, the Ynares Center in Antipolo on Tuesday night.
The Crusaders appeared to be pulling away and was on poise of getting a rare win at home after they built a 60-37 lead anchored on Juanico's career game with five minutes left in the third quarter.
But in what turned out to be a sign of things to come, the Classic ended the period on a 12-4 run to cut the lead down to 15, 64-49.
They then went on a 14-0 run to trim the gap to just two, 65-63, with 5:35 left in the fourth.
Rizal rebuilt some cushion after a triple from Chris Diputado stretched its lead to six, 71-65.
But a Carlo De Chavez trey sparked a 7-0 Valenzuela run to give his team a 72-71 lead with 1:14 remaining.
Eric Dela Cuesta give the Crusaders their last taste of the lead at 74-72 with a off-the-glass triple as the shotclock expired.
But Ryan Arambulo scored on a jumper that tied the game up at 74-all before Jaymar Gimpayan stole the ball from Dela Cuesta that eventually led to his game-winning basket with 15 seconds left.
Juanico had two more cracks at the baskets in the end, but he muffed a tightly contested triple and a runner as time expired as Rizal's endgame woes haunted the team once more.
Ford Ruaya made 16 points, nine rebounds, one assist, and two steals for Valenzuela, which now tied Pampanga for eighth place in the Northern Division at 7-10. Valenzuela owns the tiebreaker over Pampanga due to its 90-82 win on Oct. 24.
De Chavez added 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting, four rebounds, one assist, and one steal, while Paolo Hubalde chipped in 10 markers, five rebounds, seven dimes, and three steals.
Juanico put up 23 points, two rebounds, two assists, and two steals in his best game yet scoring-wise for Rizal, but he too committed seven turnovers as the team slipped to 5-12, just a half-game ahead of last-placed Basilan in the Southern Division.
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