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Rookie Palacielo steps up as NU secures playoff slot

National University freshman PJ Palacielo introduced himself to the University Athletic Association of the Philippines Season 85 men’s basketball tournament with a performance to remember.

The seldom-used rookie saw action in just eight minutes but delivered eight crucial points in the closing stretch of the fourth quarter to carry the Bulldogs to a 70-61 victory over University of the East and secure at least a playoff for a Final Four spot on Thursday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

NU won its third straight game that tightened its grip on the solo second spot with an 8-3 win-loss record behind semifinal-bound reigning champion University of the Philippines.

“We’re not thinking of the Final Four. Our focus is on how we will sustain our position. In order for us to reach that level we need to raise our competitiveness,” Bulldogs coach Jeff Napa said.

“We have to keep our momentum. We have to be consistent in what we’re doing. Our remaining games are crucial so we have to concentrate on that to achieve our goal,” he added.

Palacielo was perfect on the field with 5-of-5 shooting clip. His biggest baskets came late in the fourth quarter as he swished a jumper to give NU a 57-50 lead.

After the Red Warriors answered with five straight points, Palacielo countered with back-to-back baskets followed by a Steve Nash Enriquez triple that put the Bulldogs to a comfortable 64-55 advantage in the last 1:31.

Palacielo then iced the game with a dunk off a nifty pass from Jake Figueroa to put the game away, 68-58, with just 38.7 ticks left.

“I just wanted to bounce back from my bad performance in the first half. Coach Jeff during the half made me realize the mistakes I made in the first half. I just reflected on what I did in the first half then I tried to make amends,” Palacielo said.

“I didn’t expect that I’ll get that kind of performance after that.”

John Lloyd Clemente finished with 10 points while Figueroa and John Galinato had nine markers each for NU, which can formalize its entry to the Final Four with a win over cellar-dweller University of Santo Tomas on Sunday.

UE dropped to 4-7 card in a precarious position with just three more playdates left in its elimination round campaign.

Gani Stevens led the Red Warriors with 14 points while Luis Villegas had 13 markers including the trey that pushed UE within two, 55-57, in the last 3:16 of the game. Calvin Payawal got 12 for the Red Warriors.

The Scores:

NU (70) — Palacielo 10, Clemente 10, Figeuroa 9, Galinato 9, John 8, Malonzo 7, Enriquez 6, Manansala 5, Baclaan 2, Yu 2, Mahinay 2, Minerva 0, Padrones 0

UE (61) — Stevens 14, Villegas 13, Payawal 12, Pagsanjan 7, K. Paranada 6, N. Paranada 5, Sawat 4, Tulabut 0, Remogat 0, Antiporda 0, Gilbuena 0

Quarters: 16-13, 35-24, 48-39, 70-61

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