Seven-man Centro Escolar University continued its Cinderella run, this time in the 2019 PBA D-League semifinals, turning back St. Clare College Virtual Reality, 76-75, in Game 1 of their semifinals series Monday at Paco Arena in Manila.
Rich Guinitaran scored the game-winning lay-up with 13.7 seconds to spare as the Scorpions' defense held firm in the endgame to move a win away from advancing to the championship.
"You have to give it to the boys. Though were just playing with just seven guys, I told them when we step inside the court, it's all about winning," said coach Derrick Pumaren.
That late bucket was the biggest of Guinitaran's 18 points, six rebounds, and two assists as he provided support to another historic day for center Maodo Malick Diouf.
The Senegalese bruiser once again set the PBA D-League record for most rebounds after grabbing 33 boards to compliment his 19 points, eight blocks, four assists, and four steals in 40 minutes of action.
Kurt Sunga chiped in 16 points and six rebounds, as Franz Diaz got 13 points, four assists, and two rebounds.
CEU, however, almost lost the game after Irven Palencia went berserk and scored eight of the last 12 points for St. Clare as they took a 75-74 lead with 51.6 seconds on the clock.
But he could not take the Saints home, muffing his short stab off a steal on the other end as Junjie Hallare also missed his potential game-winner at the buzzer.
"The boys hung tough and we still kept our poise," said Pumaren, with Game 2 set on Thursday at Ynares Sports Arena in Pasig.
Palencia fired 18 points and eight steals for St. Clare, while Joshua Fontanilla got 14 points and four assists.
CEU 76 -- Diouf 19, Guinitaran 18, Sunga 16, Diaz 13, Santos 8, Abastillas 2, Bernabe 0.
ST. CLARE 75 -- Palencia 18, Fontanilla 14, Hallare 13, Rubio 10, Pare 8, Lunor 6, Fuentes 4, Ambuludto 2, Santos 0, Rivera 0.
Quarters: 15-9, 32-31, 54-48, 76-75.