THE Nueva Ecija snipers struck when needed as the Rice Vanguards bested the Caloocan Batang Kankaloo, 67-60, on Monday in the OKBet-MPBL (Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League) Fifth Season at the Caloocan Sports Complex.
Jonathan Uyloan drilled in two triples and John Bryon Villarias added one in a 9-point cluster that swayed the balance Nueva Ecija’s way, 59-51, with 3 minutes and 8 seconds left in an elimination round thriller.
It was actually a 4-triple salvo as Jay Collado earlier fired from the corner to push defending national champion Nueva Ecija on top, 50-49, before Joco Tayongtong gave Caloocan its last taste of the lead with two charities at the 6-minute mark.
Nueva Ecija, which drew game-highs 15 points and 14 rebounds from Will McAloney, thus raised its record to 18-2, trailing only Pampanga (19-1) in the 29-team tournament.
Uyloan wound up with 10 points and so did Villarias for the Rice Vanguards, who were cheered on by hundreds of supporters brought along in over 20 vans.
Caloocan, which fell to 14-7, got 12 points plus 6 rebounds from Gabby Espinas, 10 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, plus 2 blocks from Ronnie Matias and 10 points, 5 rebounds plus 4 assists from Reil Cervantes.
Unlike Nueva Ecija, Zamboanga and Marikina handily won their earlier games.
Zamboanga Family’s Brand Sardines banked on a 14-point salvo to thrash Muntinlupa, 89-67, while the Marikina Semesters led from the start en route to a 90-70 rout of the Rizal XentroMall Golden Coolers.
Jaycee Marcelino, the league’s reigning MVP, posted 17 points, 5 assists and 4 rebounds for Zamboanga, which also got 15 points from Judle Fuentes, 10 points from homegrown John Mahari and 8 points plus 12 rebounds from Joseph Gabayni.
Zamboanga climbed to 15-5 while relegating Muntinlupa, which got 11 points each from Manuel Mosqueda and Val Acuna, to 12-8.
Powered by Joe Gomez De Liano’s 19 points and 5 rebounds and Marwin Dionisio’s 18 points, 4 rebounds, 3 steals and 3 assists, Marikina rose to 11-10.
Rizal fell to 9-13 as only Jeric James Pido fought back with 27 points, 4 assists and 3 rebounds.
.The MPBL returns to the Ynares Center in Antipolo with GenSan tackling Quezon City at 4 p.m., Valenzuela battling Valenzuela at 6 p.m., and Sarangani testing Batangas at 8 p.m.