Pampanga’s depth proved to be too much for defending champion Nueva Ecija in a matchup of two MPL powerhouse teams, and the squad won 76-64 on Saturday in front of a filled Bren Guiao Convention Center to maintain its perfect record through 16 games.
The front-runner for league MVP Justine Baltazar recorded another 20-20 performance, ending with 22 points, 24 rebounds, four steals, and two blocks.
The Giant Lanterns turned a 33-31 halftime deficit into a 56-44 lead late in the third canto with the help of the multiple-time UAAP Mythical Team member.
The Rice Vanguards’ closest margin of victory in the last period was a seven-point deficit when Louie Sangalang, Encho Serrano, and Baltazar combined for eight straight points to give their team a 70-55 advantage and put Nueva Ecija to sleep.
With 1:02 remaining, Baltazar and Sangalang bumped knees in a frightening incident. Despite the fact that Baltazar was clinging to his right knee when he was taken out of the game, he insisted that it was nothing severe.
Sangalang scored 13 points and grabbed seven rebounds, while Serrano contributed 15 points on 14 shots.
Kurt Reyson of Letran contributed 10 points as well.
Roi Sumang led the 14-2 Rice Vanguards, who lost, with 15 points.
With 10 points and nine rebounds, Michael Juico contributed. Prior to the game, Will McAloney was averaging 14.8 points and 8.0 rebounds, but he was only able to finish with 10 points and 5 rebounds.
At the venue, people began to gather as early as 11:00 AM. The provincial administration installed two enormous LED screens at the grandstand and the side of the sports complex after realizing that thousands of spectators could not fit inside.
The noisy but well-behaved crowd enthusiastically welcomed MPBL Founder and CEO Manny Pacquiao as he watched the match between the two teams that are set to compete for the North division championship.
In past games, Rizal XentroMall and Bataan came out on top.
Rizal defeated Bacolod, 72-63, while Bataan edged Valenzuela XUR Homes Realty Inc., 80-76, on James Castro’s four charity baskets in the final 27 seconds.
With the help of Dan Sara’s 16 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists, and 5 steals, Yves Sazon’s 14 points and 3 rebounds, and Robbi Darang’s 12 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, and 3 steals, the Bataan Risers ended a five-game losing streak and improved to 7-10.
Jamil Gabawan contributed 8 points and 8 rebounds for Bataan, whom Frederick Francisco was coaching for the first time. Castro contributed 7 points and 5 rebounds, and Jasper Longalong contributed 7 points.
With 13 points, 13 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks to go with his other stats, Troy Mallillin stood out for Rizal, helping the team improve to 7-11 overall. Jonas Tibayan came in second with 10 points.
Bacolod dropped to 6-11 because of only Dom Matillano’s 10 points.