The M. Lhuillier Kwarta Padala-Cebu Ninos held the Misamis Oriental Meteors to only four free throws in the final five minutes and guard Mark Ababon hit the big shots to escape with a 73-72 win in Game Four of the Tournament of the Philippines (TOP) National Finals, levelling the best-of-five series at 2-2 Saturday night at the Xavier University Gym.
Unexpectedly thrust into the game after starting point guard Warren Ybanez picked up two fouls in the opening minute, Ababon quickly responded by scattering 10 points, including the back-to-back winning baskets.
The Ninos trailed by three after Neil Raneses sank two free throws, 72-69, and 2:54 to play. Ronald Lamocha had a chance to pad the Meteors’ lead but he missed two free throws. Ababon then scored on a spin to the basket at the 1:35 mark, followed by a defensive stop that set the stage for the go-ahead basket with 48 seconds remaining.
The Meteors were accorded several chances to get back and wrap up the series. In the final play of the game, the Meteors fumbled the ball resulting in an eight-second mad scramble until time expired.
Facing elimination, the Ninos of Michel J. Lhuillier and Coach Raul “Yayoy” Alcoseba started aggressive, taking the first period, 26-16, behind the quarterbacking of Ababon that set up Mark Magsumbol, Bruce Dacia and Marlon Basco for easy scores.
Suddenly, Basco and Ninos scoring leader Stephen Padilla lapsed into early foul trouble, allowing the Meteors to exploit their absence with a 10-2 run powered by Patrick Cabahug to close the second period and knot the count at the halftime break, 41-41.
Reed Juntilla exploded at the start of the third period, scoring the team’s first nine markers. That was enough foundation for the Meteors of Gov. Oscar S. Moreno and Coach Jun Noel to lead entering the final period, 60-55.
The Ninos suffered a big blow when Basco was disqualified with still 7:33 left in the fourth. With the other M. Lhuillier big men struggling, Coach Alcoseba experimented with a small line-up using Hafer Mondragon as center. The gamble paid dividends as Mondragon and Magsumbol played tag team defense against Cabahug and Juntilla, holding the prolific duo scoreless from that point onwards.
Magsumbol played his best game to pace the Ninos with 16 points, followed by Ariel Mepana with 11. Again, Cabahug and Juntilla topped the Meteors with 18 and 14 points, but their offense was missed in the final canto. Raneses made five of his 11 points in the fourth period.
The deciding Game Five will be played on Monday (September 13) at the Cebu Coliseum, a fitting finale to the three-month tournament jointly organized by the Philippine Basketball League (PBL) and Liga Pilipinas and sanctioned by the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP).
How They Scored:
M. LHUILLIER-CEBU (73) – Magsumbol 16, Mepana 11, Ababon 10, Dacia 8, Padilla 7, Mondragon 5, Cruz 5, Basco 4, Santos 4, Baguion 2, Ybanez 1, Nailon 0, Saladaga 0.
MISAMIS ORIENTAL (72) – Cabahug 18, Juntilla 14, Raneses 11, Saldua 7, Daa 4, Taganas 4, Capati 3, Tagupa 3, Moreno 2, Andaya 2, Reguera 2, Lamocha 2, Misa 0, Lucernas 0.
Period Scores: 26-16, 41-41, 55-60, 73-72.