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Nueva Ecija overwhelms San Juan to win MPBL North title

By Ivan Saldajeno

PASIG—Nueva Ecija put the clamp on San Juan in the second half to make sure that the home squad will not need overtime again to beat the visitor as the former prevailed, 84-68, in the deciding game for the MPBL North Division championship on Friday night at the Nueva Ecija Coliseum in Palayan.

The Rice Vanguards completed the reverse sweep to steal the North title away from the Knights after shockingly dropping Game 1 of the best-of-three series at home last week, the first time they lost this season after a national record 25-game winning streak to start the season.

Engaging in a tight first half despite Byron Villarias' hot streak from beyond the arc, Nueva Ecija turned to its defense in the second half to close out San Juan, holding them to just 29 points even as the former scored 43.

The Rice Vanguards extended their lead to as high as 16, but the Knights tried to claw back into the game only that they could only come to as close as nine.

Villarias finished 6-of-10 from beyond the arc and finished with 19 points, six rebounds, six assists, and one steal to lead Nueva Ecija, which will have a full week of rest as Game 1 of the best-of-five national finals will happen next Friday also at the Nueva Ecija Coliseum.

Will McAloney added 15 points, eight rebounds, one assist, and one block off the bench.

Orlan Wamar strived hard for his team-high 16 points for San Juan, only going 3-of-11 from three-point range and committing seven turnovers.

Which team will face Nueva Ecija in the MPBL Finals will be determined on Saturday night when Batangas City and Zamboanga will collide in Game 3 of the South Division Finals at the Vitaliano Agan Coliseum in Zamboanga City.

Follow him on Twitter: @IvanSaldajeno

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