The University of Santo Tomas crowd inside Araneta Coliseum held their collective breath as soon as their prized rookie CJ Cansino stumbled and fell on the hardwood. It was midway through the second period in the Tigers' must-win matchup against the UP Fighting Maroons on Saturday.
Cansino went up for a layup, got fouled, and fell awkwardly. He was brought back to the UST locker room after laying on the floor for a lengthy amount of time in what appeared to be a left knee injury. He was reduced to tears in the dugout battling through the pain, but he looked more disappointed that he couldn't continue fighting alongside his teammates.
The former UAAP Juniors MVP has lived up to the hype and the expectations in his first year. At just 19 years of age, he has become a must-watch player in the league with his breathtaking plays and eye-popping numbers. His all-around game even produced the first triple-double from a rookie since 2003. Prior to Saturday's game, he was averaging 13.7 points, 10.9 rebounds, and 3.9 assists.
After his scary tumble, Cansino gave everyone a sigh of relief as he watched the second half on the sidelines.
Cansino's impact on the Tigers, however, could not be understated. Before going down with the injury, the Tigers were ahead 34-26. But as soon as he left the floor, the Fighting Maroons ended the first half on a 16-4 run. In total, UP outscored UST, 57-35, after the 6-foot-2 swingman got injured. UP won, 83-69, eliminating UST from Final Four contention.
"Just as you all saw, that's what happened," UST team captain Marvin Lee said in Filipino on how Cansino's injury changed the complexion of the game. "Something changed, something lacked. I told my team we should step up and do our best."
"Toby Agustin and Josh Marcos tried to step up," shared head coach Aldin Ayo. "They tried their best. Renzo (Subido), Marvin (Lee) also tried. Even though that was the result, I'm proud of them. They fought hard."
Ayo revealed that Cansino will undergo an MRI Saturday night to know the full extent of the injury. With one game left on UST's schedule and postseason berth already out of reach, the Tigers have decided to rest their standout rookie.
"Whatever the result of the MRI, we won't let him play anymore," Ayo said. "He had a good season. Hopefully, he learned a lot. We'll make sure that he'll be ready for next year."
Cansino's sensational rookie year has come to an abrupt close but the future remains promising for one of the league's rising stars.