By Adrian Stewart Co
Iloilo United Royals bowed out of the 2021 MPBL Invitational following an 84-67 defeat to Nueva Ecija Rice Vanguards in the quarterfinals on late Tuesday night at the SM Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.
It was the end of the road for the Iloilo City-based basketball club in the 13-day competition following its impressive run in the Pool A matches where it won four of its five matches.
The Rice Vanguards made its presence felt early for a 14-6 edge on baskets by Chris Bitoon. The United Royals countered with a rally behind John Mahari to trim the deficit to 16-20.
Conversions by Michael Mabulac at the start of the second quarter allowed Nueva Ecija to widen the lead to 31-21. Iloilo rallied to within 32-38 but hits by Renz Palma and Diego Dario gave the Rice Vanguards a 43-32 halftime edge.
Nueva Ecija pulled away anew at 51-36 in the third period with consecutive hits by John Paul Sarao and Mabulac. Iloilo answered with triples from Levi Hernandez but could not bring the Rice Vanguards’ lead down to double figures.
Iloilo made its last push in the fourth quarter as they trimmed the deficit to 65-74 on triples by Hernandez but Nueva Ecija went for the kill with baskets from Bacolodnon John Byron Villarias as the lead reached its largest at 17 points.
Mabulac finished the match with double-double 17 points and 11 rebounds, Villarias chipped in 16 markers, including four outside baskets, while Sarao ended up with 10 points for the Rice Vanguards.
Rice Vanguards advances to the semifinals round against Imus-Buracai de Laiya, which moved on to the MPBL Final Four following a 74-57 stunner over the heavily-favored Bicol Volcanoes.
Hernandez was the lone bright spot for the United Royals with 26 points, including six three-point conversions, as usual contributor Chito Jaime was limited to just nine markers.
Meanwhile, the two other teams that advanced to the MPBL semifinals were Pasig-Sta. Lucia Realtors and Basilan Jumbo Plastic Medical Depot after disposing of their quarterfinals foes.
NUEVA ECIJA 84 – Mabulac 17, Villarias 16, Sarao 10, Palma 9, Gozum 9, Bitoon 6, Dario 6, Sumang 6, Gutang 3, Banal 2, Balucanag 0.
ILOILO 67 – Hernandez 26, Jaime 9, Gumaru 6, Vito 5, David 4, Mahari 4, David 4, Inigo 4, Jeruta 3, Racho 3, Taywan 3, Maguliano 0.
Quarterscores: 20-16, 43-32, 70-56, 84-67./ASC, WDJ