By Ivan Saldajeno
PASIG—Bataan emerged victorious in a tight showdown with Muntinlupa, escaping with a 67-63 win in the Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League Datu Cup at the Bataan People’s Center in Balanga on Monday night.
With no less than league founder Manny Pacquiao witnessing the instant classic at the sideline, the Risers reigned supreme over the Cagers in a battle between league heavyweights.
It was a close contest from start to finish as Muntinlupa quickly recovered from a seven-point hole Bataan built in the second quarter and even took the lead in the third quarter.
The Risers recovered and took a 55-50 advantage with 7:45 remaining.
But the Cagers responded with five unanswered points to force a 55-all deadlock with 7:01 to play, triggering the wild ending.
Barkley Ebona, however, came to Bataan’s rescue, scoring a clutch lay-in and two crucial free throws that kept Muntinlupa at bay.
The Cagers stayed in the game as it forced Bataan to an eight-second backcourt violation that led to Chito Jaime’s free throws that put the visiting side to within two, 63-65, with 32.3 seconds left.
But Yvan Ludovice found an open Robby Celiz underneath for the dagger layup with 8.2 seconds to play.
Byron Villarias even put an exclamation point to the Risers’ win as he blocked Jaime’s last ditch from three-point range before time expired.
Gab Dagangon put up 15 points on 4-of-6 shooting, five rebounds, one steal, and one block for Bataan, which moved up to 19-2.
Ludovice and Celiz each added nine points.
Ebona put up six points, 14 rebounds, one assist, and one steal in total.
Jaime finished with 16 points and six boards for Metro Manila side, which came short of locking in a playoff spot and instead fell to 12-8, virtually tying Batangas City (13-9) for second place in the Southern Division.
The result benefited Davao Occidental as the team now only needs one win or another Muntinlupa loss to seal the top seed in the South.
Meanwhile, the Risers are now three wins away from locking the top seed in the North and the entire MPBL playoffs.
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