The Mapua Cardinals overcame the absence of their star player and managed to pull out a gutsy 85-76 victory over the CSB-LSGH Junior Blazers in Game 2 of the NCAA Juniors Finals, forcing a decisive winner-take-all third game.
Clint Escamis, Mapua's explosive scorer, merely watched on the sidelines of the Mall of Asia Arena on Monday as his team seemingly had every answer against the defending champions. The graduating shooting guard missed Monday's Game 2 due to a recurring left knee injury.
"We decided to not let Escamis play for Game 2," Mapua coach Randy Alcantara said in Filipino. "Maybe he'll recover after this game and he'll be with us for Game 3 hopefully. But we told the boys that they'll be on their own. And we drew motivation from our hard work.
The Red Robins have proven before that they're more than just a one-man show and once again relied on significant contributions from across the board to get the win against Mapua.
Dan Arches spearheaded the offense with 22 points. A pair of double-doubles from Jonnel Policarpio (14 points, 14 rebounds) and Paolo Hernandez (13 points, 10 rebounds) also provided a huge boost for Mapua.
More than the offense, it was on the defensive end that proved to be the difference.
Juniors MVP Joel Cagulangan scored 17 points, but he only shot 4-for-17 from the field.
"Credit to (Roseler) Sarias," Alcantara said on their defense against the league's top guard. "He told me, 'I'll pick him up coach.' When he told me that, he really focused on guarding Cagulangan. Of course, we won't' be able to limit him to zero points but we needed Sarias' defense be disciplined."
The trio of Inand Fornilos, Mark Sangco, and Lennox Valenzuela chipped in with 13 points apiece while combining for 24 rebounds. But as a team, La Salle Greenhills only shot 25 percent from the field. Joshua David, one of the Junior Blazers' top performers throughout the season, settled for only five points on 1-for-15 shooting.
The Red Robins outscored the Junior Blazers, 11-5, to open the fourth to turn a three-point lead to a nine-point advantage, 70-61. Arches, Hernandez, and Policarpio kept providing timely buckets that paved the way for the victory.
"I just told them we lost Game 1, but they're not the champion yet," Alcantara said. "That's why it's a best-of-three. We needed to get Game 2 no matter how hard."