John Byron Villarias connected when needed and lifted the Nueva Ecija Rice Vanguards past the Bacoor Strikers, 83-75, in the Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League Fifth Season on Monday at the Nueva Ecija Coliseum in Palayan City.
The Strikers threatened twice, 68-69 and 74-78, but Villarias responded on both occasions, sinking triples that shoved the Rice Vanguards to safer waters in their much-awaited encounter.
Villarias wound up with 22 points, including 6-of-9 three-point field goal, five rebounds and three steals to earn best player honors and hand Nueva Ecija its 17th win against two losses in the round-robin elimination phase of the 22-team tournament.
Will McAloney also played a key role for defending champion Nueva Ecija with 18 points plus 10 rebounds.
Other contributors for the Rice Vanguards were Pamboy Raymundo with nine points, Michael Mabulac, Michael Juico and Roi Sumang with eight markers each.
Bacoor, which tumbled to 16-3, got 19 points plus six rebounds from Jhan McHale Nermal, Michael Cañete with 17 points plus four rebounds and Mike Yee with 12 points plus eight rebounds.
Earlier, Parañaque pulled off an 86-77 stunner over Zamboanga, while Muntinlupa trounced Valenzuela, 89-79.
The Parañaque Patriots, powered by Joshua Gallano and Jielo Razon, greeted the extra period with an eight-point cluster and held the Zamboangueños to just a bucket en route to their eighth win against 12 losses.
Gallano, a prized find from Olivarez College, wound up with 23 points, five rebounds and three steals to earn best player honors over Razon, who finished with 20 points, nine assists, eight rebounds and four steals.
It was also Gallano who forced overtime, 75-75, with a lay-up, only three ticks left. Homegrown John Anthony Umali also shone for Parañaque with 14 points and three rebounds.
Zamboanga, the 2023 MPBL Preseason Invitational champion, fell to 14-5 despite the double-digit outputs of five players led by Joseph Gabayni with 16.
Jayvee Marcelino posted 15 points and 10 rebounds, Judel Fuentes and Cyrus Tabi with 13 points each and Damian Lasco with 11 points.