Blazers claim piece of lead, carry streak into killer stretch
College of St. Benilde encountered stiff resistance from a lowly foe on Tuesday before gutting out an 82-77 win over Arellano that raised the Blazers’ impressive opening run in Season 95 of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament to five games.
Seldom-used guard Robi Nayve gave the Blazers the breathing room they needed by swishing consecutive threes that created the separation needed as Benilde reclaimed a piece of the elimination round lead with idle defending champion San Beda.
Nayve’s back-to-back threes near the end of the third finally disentangled the Blazers from a stubborn Arellano side, which suffered its sixth defeat in seven outings.
In the first game, Mapua leaned on its second unit in a huge run after halftime to subdue Emilio Aguinaldo, 76-66.
Cyril Gonzales anchored the Cardinals’ stand as Mapua rose to 2-5 while dropping the Generals to 1-6.
But while sustaining their triumphant streak should be a cause for great celebration for the Blazers, the validation will come in the next four games, a murderous stretch that involves meeting the title contenders before wrapping up their first-round campaign.
Facing the Red Lions, the Letran Knights and the Lyceum Pirates in succession will be the real test for the Blazers, whose untainted 5-0 record is the finest in the school’s NCAA history the past two decades.
“These succeeding games will measure the strength and character of our team and we’ll be ready for it,” said CSB headcoach Ty Tang.
A healthy lineup really paid off for the Blazers, who saw frontliners Clement Leutcheu and Justin Gutang efficiently fighting for space inside while Yankie Haruna, Edward Dixon and Jimboy Pasturan did the damage in the open court with Nayve and Unique Naboa.
Leutcheu, a 6-foot-7 Senagalese center, again hurt his left hand, but the soreness dissipated after getting ice-pack treatment.