Defending champion Nueva Ecija, former titleholder Batangas and league-leading Pampanga flashed their fangs in the OKBet-MPBL (Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League) Fifth Season at the Caloocan Sports Complex on Wednesday.
The Nueva Ecija Rice Vanguards fended off the final assault of the GenSan Warriors to prevail, 97-93, to keep in step with the Pampanga Giant Lanterns, who routed the Oriental Mindoro Disiplinados, 91-70, in the elimination round triple bill.
Not to be outdone, the Batangas City Embassy Chill Athletics subdued the Caloocan Batang Kankaloo, 80-67, in the nightcap to climb to second spot behind the idle Bacoor Strikers in the South division of the 29-team tournament.
GenSan threatened twice, the last at 84-85 on a triple by Mark Cruz, but Nueva Ecija’s John Bryon Villarias responded with a triple and Michael Mabulac scored underneath with just 40 seconds left to lift the Rice Vanguards to their 20th win against four losses, trailing Pampanga (22-2) in the North division.
Will McAloney led Nueva Ecija with 14 points and 11 rebounds, followed by Jonathan Uyloan with 14 points, Mabulac with 13 points plus five rebounds, Roi Sumang with 12 points, and Villarias with 12 points, five assists, five rebounds plus five steals. Michael Juico also did his part with 10 points plus seven rebounds.