By Ivan Saldajeno
MANILA--Manila came alive in the end as the capital side turned back Rizal, 71-70, in the MPBL Datu Cup at the Bataan People's Center in Balanga on Monday night.
Reil Cervantes scored on a follow-up with 26 seconds left as the Stars pipped the Crusaders to force a virtual tie with the Bataan Risers, who are hosting the Zamboanga Valientes as of posting, at the top of the Northern Division standings.
Up 67-66 with 2:26 to go, Manila was held scoreless by Rizal for nearly two minutes, and the latter even took a 70-67 lead.
However, Marvin Hayes sparked the Stars's endgame hurrah after getting an and-1 opportunity off a Jerome Juanico foul.
Hayes missed the bonus free throw, but the ball eventually ended in the hands of Cervantes, who put the ball back in to give them the lead.
Eric Dela Cuesta had a chance to steal the win, but he missed the potential go-ahead trey and Juanico's follow-up to equalize was swatted away by Cervantes.
Hayes had a chance to make things tougher for the Crusaders, but he missed two free throws only for the ball to go back at his hands.
Hayes once again missed both his charities off another foul, but Aris Dionisio collared the offensive board that finally sealed the win for Manila.
Dionisio finished with 20 points, 14 rebounds, one assist, two blocks, and one steal for the Stars, who are now at 16-3.
Cervantes added 15 markers, nine boards, four dimes, one block, and one steal.
Marco Balagtas put up 17 points, eight caroms, one assist, and two swats for the Crusaders, who fell to 5-14.
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