The San Juan Knights will try to finish off the now vulnerable Nueva Ecija Rice Vanguards when they clash in Game 2 of their OKbet-MPBL (Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League) North division finals series at 6:30 p.m. on Monday at the FilOil EcoOil Centre in San Juan.
The Knights handed the Rice Vanguards their first loss of the season, 79-72, on Friday in Palayan City and are determined to do a repeat to cut short the best-of-three playoffs.
To do that, the Knights, being coached by Randy Alcantara, will again bank on Judel Fuentes, Michael Calisaan, Dexter Maiquez, Orlan Wamar and Ron Dennison.
Calisaan posted 19 points, 13 rebounds and 2 steals to earn best player honors while Funtes accounted for 17 points and 7 rebounds. Maiquez contributed 11 points and 7 rebounds and Orlan Wamar 11 points, 9 assists and 2 steals. Though he scored only 3 points, Dennison grabbed 5 rebounds and played tough defense.
Having tasted defeat after winning their first 25 games, the Rice Vanguards are raring to bounce back and force a Game 3 decider that would be held at the Nueva Ecija Coliseum, if ever.
Unlike Alcantara, who has fewer dependable players at his disposal, Nueva Ecija Coach Jerson Cabiltes has a star-laden roster that can deliver when called upon.
Unfortunately, on Friday, some of them were out-of-sync, particularly MPBL All-Star Michael Mabulac, who was held to 4 points and 7 rebounds and fouled out late in the fourth quarter. Crack point guard Hesed Gabo, on the other hand, could only contribute 6 points, 5 assists and 4 rebounds.
Mabulac and Gabo will have to step up and combine with John Bryon Villartias, Michael Juico, Will McAloney, Jay Collado and Pamboy Raymundo for Nueva Ecija, the pre-season favorite, to extend the series.
The Rice Vanguards must also improve their outside shooting, making only 4 of 28 triple attempts, and free throw shooting, sinking only 22 of 32 charities, if they want to exact revenge on the Knights, the 2019 MPBL Datu Cup champions.