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Finally, Blazers make Final Four

Games Wednesday:

(Filoil EcoOil Centre):

12 p.m. JRU vs Lyceum

3 p.m. San Beda vs Letran

 

After 20 long years, College of Saint Benilde is back in the Final Four of the National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball tournament.

Saint Benilde, behind the power moves of Will Gozum, scored an 83-78 victory over San Sebastian as the Blazers put an end to the Stags’ bold bid on Tuesday in Season 98 at the Filoil EcoOil Centre in San Juan.

The Blazers’ triumph over the Stags shut the door on the other squads, mainly University of Perpetual Help, from nursing hopes of entering the semifinal round.

Already guaranteed of F4 berths are league-leading Letran College (12-3), Lyceum of the Philippines University (11-5) and San Beda (10-5), which tangle with the Knights this afternoon.

Saint Benilde has an 11-4 mark.

But the win was not handed on a silver platter to the Blazers.

Thinking that the game was in the bag when it led, 80-72, in the fourth frame, the Stags scored four straight points courtesy of Rommle Calahat and Kenneth Villapando.

Still, Saint Benilde simply could not be denied access into the next stage when Mis Ozcon drained a cold-blooded triple with 1:12 remaining off a Gozum screen.

Head coach Charles Tiu was over the moon following the taft-based squad’s landmark win.

“It feels great, to be honest. It’s one of the goals we had this season. We still didn’t think people expected us to be in the Final Four,” Tiu, in his second year calling the shots, said.

“It’s nice to get it with a win and not because a team is losing. To earn it, it’s happy but the job’s not done,” he added.

UP next is for the Blazers to secure one of the two twice-to-beat advantages, something that will be difficult given the opposition.

The last time Saint Benilde went past the elimination round was in 2002 when the team was bannered by Season 78 Most Valuable Player Sunday Salvacion, who went on to win five titles in the Philippine Basketball Association.

While Oczon’s connection from beyond the arc settled the issue, it was Gozum’s premium performance that stood out.

Gozum dropped a double-double of 25 points and 10 rebounds alongside six rebounds and two steals while Miggy Corteza backed him up with 18 points and one board.

Gozum, a 23-year-old center, said his recent showing was a way of paying back the rust and confidence given to him by the coaching staff.

“I’m happy we got the Final Four win. I’m just returning the trust the coaches have been giving me,” Gozum said.

Calahat and Ichie Altamirano both had 11 points each for the Stags as they formally bowed out of contention with a 6-9 slate.

First game:

SAINT BENILDE (83) — Gozum 25, Corteza 18, Carlos 14, Oczon 10, Pasturan 8, Cullar 4, Lepalam 4, Nayve 0, Marcos 0, Sumabat 0, Davis 0, Lim 0.

SAN SEBASTIAN (78) — Altamirano 11, Calahat 11, Villapando 10, Desoyo 10, Sumoda 7, Escobido 7, Are 5, Cosari 5, Suico 5, Una 5, Aguilar 2, Yambing 0, Shanoda 0, Concha 0.

QUARTERS: 20-21, 44-40, 63-57, 83-78.

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