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Nueva Ecija nips Zamboanga, Bataan, Muntinlupa trip rivals

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Nueva Ecija blew a big lead but squeaked past Zamboanga Master Sardines, 83-80, on Saturday and shared the top spot in the MBL (Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League) Sixth Season elimination round at the Nueva Ecija Coliseum in Palayan City.

Ahead, 79-66, with 2 minutes and 51 seconds left, the Nueva Ecija Rice Vanguards got rattled as the Zamboanguenos threatened at 80-82 with 11.1 seconds to go. Nueva Ecija center Rob Celiz split his two free throws for the final tally as Zamboanga’s Ady Santos missed two charities and Renzo Subido’s potential game-tying triple rimmed out at the buzzer.

The Rice Vanguards stretched their unbeaten run to 10 and caught up with the Quezon Huskers at the helm of the 29-team tournament. The San Juan Knights are right behind them with a 9-0 card.

Will McAloney paced Nueva Ecija, the 2022 MPBL champion, with 16 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks, followed by Emman Calo with 15 points, 3 rebounds, 3 steals and 2 assists. Celiz posted 12 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists, and 2 steals while Chris Bitoon tallied 12 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 assists for Coach Don Dulay.
Zamboanga, which fell to 9-3, drew 24 points, 5 rebounds, 4 steals, and 3 assists from MPBL Fourth Season MVP Jaycee Marcelino, 12 points from homegrown Rey Joey Barcuma, and 11 points from  Subido.

Earlier, Bataan got back on track with a 93-61 victory over Imus.

Derailed by five straight defeats, the Bataan Risers led by as far as 64-29 en route to a 4-8 slate.
Yves Sazon paced the Risers with 19 points, followed by Jeff Santos with 13, Mitchelle Maynes with 12, Robbi Darang with 11, and Carl Bringas with 10. Jamil Gabawan settled for 8 points plus 11 rebounds, while Alex Ramos chipped in 4 points plus 12 rebounds for Bataan.

Imus, which has yet to win after 12 starts, got 18 points from Fil-Am Richard Popovic, 14 from Russelle Amihan, and 10 from Eugene Gonzales.

Muntinlupa bested Bacolod, 80-74, in the opener to improve to 4-8.

Alfred Flores accounted for 21 points, 14 in the fourth quarter, and 6 rebounds while Joshua Miguel Marcos contributed 19 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks for the Muntinlupa Cagers. Outrebounded, 41-51, the Cagers compensated through better field goal (43.8 to 39.7 percent) and free throw shooting (82.5 to 73 percent).
Bacolod, which tumbled to 1-11, got 16 points from homegrown LA Casinilio, 14 from Jacob Galicia, and 10  from Danny Marilao and Alfred Sedillo.

The MPBL returns to the FilOil Flying V Centre in San Juan on Monday with games pitting Bulacan against Marikina at 4 p.m., Pasay against Valenzuela at 6 p.m., and San Juan against Rizal at 8 p.m.

photo: Alfred Flores shines for Muntinlupa.
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