By Ivan Saldajeno
MANILA — Zamboanga’s late surge to the Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League Datu Cup Playoffs continued on Monday night after subduing Cebu City, 61-58, at the Marist School Gymnasium in Marikina.
The Rapidos recovered from a sluggish first half and bombarded the Sharks in the final quarter to move up in the Southern Division standings.
Aiming for one last push to make the Top 4 in the South, Cebu City banked on its defense to thwart Zamboanga, only conceding 20 points the entire first half.
The Sharks even threatened to pull away in the third quarter, going on an 8-0 run to lead by 11, 38-27.
However, the Rapidos started the fourth quarter strongly, going on a 13-4 run to take a 49-47 lead.
Rhaffy Octobre gave Cebu City the lead back, 50-49, with a three-pointer only for Ryan Buenafe to respond with his own trey to put Zamboanga back up, 52-50.
The game remained tight, and even a 54-all deadlock was forced with 3:12 left in the game.
But the Rapidos scored four straight points to go ahead, 58-54, with 2:22 to play.
Will McAloney was rewarded following a block on Allan Santos by scoring a layup in the next play to trim the gap to just two, 58-56, with 1:58 remaining.
Santos somehow failed to make up for letting the block happen as he only made a split from the free throw line as Zamboanga was holding to a precarious three-point lead, 59-56, with 1:21 left.
Octobre then found Patrick Cabahug for a clutch jumper that drew Cebu City to within one point, 58-59, with 1:02 remaining.
The team then got a chance to reclaim the lead as it forced Robin Roño to a turnover with 48 seconds on the clock, but Octobre missed a field goal.
Jaybie Mantilla, however stole the ball from Reed Juntilla following the latter’s rebound, giving his squad 15 seconds to steal the win.
But Mantilla failed to convert a quick jumper off the timeout, and Buenafe made two free throws stretch the lead back to three with six seconds left.
Cabahug had one final scare as he tried to force overtime, but he missed the potential equalizer from three-point range before time expired.
Buenafe finished with 13 points, six rebounds, three assists, and one block for the Zamboanga, which now holds the solo seventh spot in the South at 10-12, forcing a virtual tie with its victim (11-13) in the process.
Ivan Villanueva added 12 points, five rebounds, one assist, and one steal off the bench, while Juntilla made 11 markers, two rebounds, two dimes, and one steal.
Edrian Lao made 12 points, five boards, and one dime for Cebu City.
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