By Ivan Saldajeno
MANILA—Batangas City held off a late surge by Imus for a 96-93 victory in the MPBL Datu Cup at the Batangas State University-Jose P. Laurel Polytechnic College Gymnasium in Malvar on Tuesday night.
Having to play their home game 39 kilometers away from their usual playground, the Batangas City Sports Center, due to it being used for the activities related to the fiesta in the said city, the Athletics nearly botched a hot start but got the better of the clutch moments.
Batangas City raced to a good start and entered halftime ahead, 54-40.
Imus, however, came alive in the third quarter and was within four, 55-59, with 5:37 left in the said period.
The Athletics regained control and increased their lead back to 11, 82-71, with 7:25 to play in the fourth quarter and were holding off the Bandera, who still inched closer, thanks to huge offensive rebounds down the stretch.
But a John Sarao layup with 5.4 seconds remaining to trim the gap to three points set up an interesting finish.
Jeff Viernes had his inbound pass off a timeout picked by Wilson Baltazar, who found a dashing James Castro at the opposite end.
But Castro, who only realized after getting the ball that they needed a three to force overtime, threw up an ill-advised floater from way out that he airballed before time expired.
Despite the late turnover, Viernes still finished with 19 points, three rebounds, three assists, and four steals to lead Batangas City, which moved up to 12-8, 1.5 games behind Muntinlupa for second place in the Southern Division.
Dennice Villamor added 18 points, three rebounds, and two steals, while Jaymo Eguilos put up a double-double of 14 points and 10 rebounds with two assists, one block, and one steal.
Jonathan Rivera fired 23 points with 10 rebounds, one assist, and two steals for Imus, which fell to a three-way tie with GenSan and Bacoor City for fourth place in the South at 9-9.
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