The LPU Pirates survived their toughest test so far in NCAA Season 93 as they endured a narrow 97-93 victory over the EAC Generals on Thursday at the EAC Sports and Cultural Center in Manila.
For the first time since their strong start, the Pirates were caught in a dog fight against a determined and gutsy Generals squad in front of a boisterous home crowd. But stellar play from Jaycee Marcelino and CJ Perez catapulted their team for their seventh straight win.
“Actually we need games like this eh to sharpen us,” assistant coach Jeff Perlas said. “Kailangan grounded pa rin kami.”
Perez tallied 20 points, three rebounds, and five assists while Marcelino equally put in 20 points (career-high) and five boards. Marcelino also produced the game-winning steal, picking the ball up from a Francis Munsayac turnover to extend the Pirates’ lead to four points with seven seconds remaining.
“Ako kasi gusto ko manalo kaay ginawa ko lahat ng best ko. Lagi kong iniisip na wala na bukas kung matatalo kami,” Marcelino shared.
Munsayac had 26 points to lead his team, a career-best for the EAC veteran, but his third turnover happened to be the most pivotal one as he unfortunately gave their opponent the chance to seal the game. Four other Generals scored in double-figures in the losing effort. Jerome Garcia chipped in with 19 points while Jesse Bautista and Jeric Diego both had a 11-point and 10-rebound game. Rustan Bugarin also contributed 10 points.
A lot of EAC players had to step up with the loss of their 6’9” center Hamadou Laminou. The Cameroonian has been ruled out of the season due to a right ACL tear he suffered in their game against the Arellano Chiefs last Tuesday.
The back-and-forth battle wasn’t the only test for the undefeated Pirates as they had to finish the game without head coach Topex Robinson. The fourth year LPU mentor was ejected midway through the second quarter after receiving two quick technical fouls.
“I just trust these players. Kahit sino siguro humawak sa players na to they can self-motivate,” Perlas said, after taking on the coaching duties with the departure of Robinson. “They know what’s at stake. It’s not just about the standing pero it’s just showing the character.”
“Masakit nung nawala nga si coach,” Marcelino added. “Sinabi namin sa isa’t isa na ‘kaya natin to kahit wala si coach, na magtutulungan tayo at wag natin isipin na 6-0 tayo, isipin natin na kahit sino kalaban, challenge yun’”
The LPU Pirates are now 7-0 for first place in the standings but they faced a grueling test against the EAC Generals. And in the end, coach Jeff Perlas might have given the best compliment to coach Ariel Sison and the Generals.
“Sabi ko kay coach Ariel, you made us better after this game,” Perlas humbly expressed.
Even if the Pirates remain perfect, they know they need to endure games like these in the future in order for them to be successful.