The Davao Occidental Tigers proved steadier down the stretch on both ends of the floor as they escaped with a thrilling 77-75 win over the San Juan Knights in Game One of the Chooks-to-Go MPBL Lakan best-of-five National Finals on Wednesday at the Subic Bay Gymnasium.
Veteran forward Mark Yee came up with a loose ball off a crucial San Juan turnover with 19.3 seconds left and calmly sank two free-throws to put Davao Occidental in front, 76-75.
On San Juan’s offensive, the Knights’ star wingman Mike Ayonayon found a seam in the defense and drove in but his layup attempt got blocked by Tigers ace Billy Ray Robles. Yee then grabbed the rebound and was fouled with two seconds remaining.
He missed the first but made the second to put Davao Occidental ahead, 77-75, with just two seconds left. With no timeouts remaining, San Juan was forced to inbound at the far end of the floor and Orlan Wamar’s hail mary of a pass was intercepted by Cebuano guard Emman Calo to seal the win for the Tigers.
"This just shows the character of our team. We don't give up. Siyempre playing with San Juan, it's different, we kind of like payback," said Davao Occidental head coach Don Dulay.
Calo, who previously played for the University of the Visayas, led the way for Davao with 15 points, including nine in the fourth quarter where they came back from an 11-point deficit.
Yee, also had 15 markers of his own to go with eight rebounds, four steals, and three dimes.
Datu Cup Finals MVP Ayonayon led San Juan with 27 points, three rebounds, five assists, a steal and two blocks. Wilson also contributed 15 markers on a 5-of-15 shooting clip, alongside seven rebounds, five steals, and two blocks.
Game Two will be played on Thursday, March 18, at 4 p.m. at the same venue.
Davao Occidental 77 - Yee 15, Calo 15, Custodio 12, Mocon 9, Robles 9, Balagtas 6, Terso 5, Saldua 2, Ludovice 2, Gaco 2, Albo 0.
San Juan 75 - Ayonayon 27, Wilson 15, Clarito 9, Rodriguez 9, Isit 4, Tajonera 3, Gabawan 2, Estrella 2, Pelayo 2, Reyes 2, Wamar 0, Aquino 0.
Quarterscores: 15-15, 30-30, 43-49, 68-68, 77-75. (JNP)