By Henry L. Liao(XS ‘72)
Defending champion Xavier School pulled Grace Christian College out of the unbeaten ranks with a pulsating 91-87 victory Saturday night (Jan. 24) in the Juniors Division of the 39th Metro Manila Tiong Lian Basketball Association tournament to lead the competition with a clean (4-0) slate.
Played at Xavier School’s Jacinto Tiu Court in Greenhills, San Juan, the Golden Stallions bucked a furious rally by Grace Christian in the endgame to register their fourth win in as many assignments.
Grace Christian, which finished dead last in 2006 (when it returned to the Tiong Lian competitions following a prolonged absence) and sixth in both 2007 and 2008, fell to 3-1.
Xavier’s victory did not come easy as it trailed for much of the first half and in the early goings of the third period. The so-called homecourt advantage was hardly evident among the big crowd at the Jacinto Tiu hardcourt.
The Gold and Blue raced to a 7-0 start but Grace Christian surprisingly came right back with an 11-0 run of its own, climbed to a game-high 10-point advantage (25-15) midway through the first quarter before settling for a 32-28 edge after 10 minutes, thanks to a 15-point, four three-point effort by slippery guard Christian So.
Xavier scored eight straight points to start the second quarter (8-0) to grab a 36-32 edge. Coach Lito Vergara’s boys still were ahead 38-34 on Jeric Teng’s basket when hotshot Lawrence Anthony Chua (six) and hulking Justin Ngo (a three-pointer) engineered a 9-0 blast for Grace to regain the lead, 43-38.
Grace Christian, which was without head coach Senen Duenas, held on for a 45-40 advantage at halftime as Chua and Ngo knocked in 11 markers apiece to ably support So, who had 15 in the first 10 minutes but tired out and lost his touch in the second (scoreless 0-for-4 from the foul line).
Xavier, which trailed at halftime for the first time in four outings, got 23 points from Teng after 20 minutes and nothing much else from his teammates.
Then came the decisive, tide-changing third quarter, which saw XS outscore Grace 30-14. The Gold and Blue shell-shocked Grace Christian by tightening up its defense and making 14 consecutive points - built around a number of steals and six points from pesky rookie guard Bryan Tan - to open the third quarter and secure a 54-45 edge.
Xavier continued to befuddle Grace with its pressure defense and took a commanding 68-50 advantage on Teng’s fourth of game-best five threes.
However, a resilient and spirited Grace squad was not done yet. It tallied nine straight markers to slice the deficit to 68-59 before Xavier’s Jeron Teng got his lone basket to end the quarter, 70-59.
Xavier still enjoyed an 85-73 advantage when LA Chua scored six consecutive points to slice the Stallions’ lead to six, 85-79, time down to 3:16 minutes.
A fifth trifecta from Jeric and Xavier was back with a nine-point lead, 88-79, and headed for an all-important win and solo leadership in the elimination-round standings.
Xavier iced the game on a field goal by starter Kevin Patco, 90-83, with 37.5 seconds remaining and Grace cemented its downfall when Jason Tan missed a pair of free throws seconds later.
Expectedly, Jeric Teng led Xavier with 44 points, nine rebounds and two assists. Ian Umali was the only other Stallion in twin digits with 13. Bryan Tan tallied seven and Harold Ng had a pair of three-pointers and six points.
Grace was bannered by its top three stars - So, 27 points; Ngo, 20; and Chua, 19.
In the only other game Saturday night, Hope Christian High School finally broke a 22-game losing streak dating back to year 2006 with a 62-50 triumph over a listless and demoralized St. Jude Catholic School which played without its coaching staff.
Hope Christian and St. Jude Catholic School now own identical 1-4 records. Theoretically, if the two schools wind up with the same mark after the six-game elimination phase, Hope will be ranked higher due to the winner-over-the-other rule.
Rookie guard Janrey Garrido topscored for Hope Christian with 27 points. Center Reuel Rabino collected nine scores and Aeschylus Tan and Alvin Monzon (0-for-10 from the foul line) had eight each.
St. Jude, which dropped its fourth straight appearance, was led by Perry Lee, Derrence Lam and Jason Ligad, all of whom had seven points apiece. High-scoring frontliner Lim Lo was held to five.
Wednesday night (Jan. 28), Grace Christian College (3-1) takes on St. Stephen’s High School (1-3) and Xavier School (4-0) goes up against host Uno High School (3-1) at the Uno Gym.