By Ivan Saldajeno
BINAN--Fresh from a tough home loss to Quezon City on Wednesday night, Muntinlupa was keen on venting ire on Laguna with a terrific first half when they faced off Saturday night at the latter's home floor.
The Heroes, however, took over in the second half.
Laguna banked on a solid third quarter and some endgame brilliance to hold off Muntinlupa, 95-94, in the Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League Datu Cup at the Alonte Sports Arena.
The Cagers thought they are on their way to bouncing back mightily after opening a 44-26 lead with 5:06 to play in the first half behind a strong performance from Allan Mangahas
But the Heroes recovered and started the third quarter with a 23-5 blast to take a 66-58 advantage.
Despite Muntinlupa hanging on, Laguna stayed poise and even led by eight again, 83-75, with 6:20 to go in the fourth.
The Cagers then went on a 7-0 run to turn the game into a thriller. Eventually, both teams were at a 90-all deadlock with two and a half minutes left.
However, Michael Mabulac scored on back-to-back layups to put the Heroes back up, 94-90, with 1:50 left.
Muntinlupa was held scoreless for nearly two minutes until Mangahas made two free throws with 44 seconds remaining that drew the team to within two, 92-94.
Felix Apreku had a huge chance to tie the game after he got fouled by Raymond Ilagan during a rebounding battle with 24 seconds to go, but Apreku could only make 1-of-2 from the free throw line and the Cagers may have needed to foul just to stop the clock.
However, they gambled on a steal, which paid dividends as Mangahas got the ball away from Lordy Casajeros.
Elvin Chan bounced back by stealing the ball from the driving Dhon Reverente and getting a foul on him.
Chan, however, still left the door open as he too only made a split with 16.2 seconds for Muntinlupa to set up either an equalizer or a game-winning triple.
Ilagan fouled Mangahas while the latter was going to his weak side, giving the latter the opportunity to tie the game up with two free throws.
However, Mangahas, who made the first charity, muffed the second free throw, although his team now had a chance to win it with 8.5 seconds left.
Mangahas went for a baseline one-hander with time expiring, but the shot just rimmed off.
Mabulac made 28 points on 12-of-16 shooting, seven rebounds, two assists, two blocks, and one steal for Laguna, which moved up to seventh place in the Southern Division at 8-9.
Ilagan added a double-double of 16 points and 11 rebounds with four assists and two blocks.
Mangahas put up 31 points, one rebounds, five assists, and five steals for Muntinlupa, which lost its last three games.
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