Akari-Adamson captured the top seed in the 2018 PBA D-League Aspirants’ Cup, but not before a tough 71-64 victory over Jose Rizal University Thursday at Ynares Sports Arena in Pasig.
Sean Manganti triggered their hot start, firing 14 points in the first half and leading the Falcons in shutting down the Heavy Bombers in the second frame, 24-7, for the commanding 46-27 halftime lead.
But JRU managed to storm back into the game with a 16-1 tear and brought what once was a 24-point advantage down to as low as three, 58-55, on a Jeckster Apinan bucket with 6:04 to play.
Akari-Adamson, though, drew big plays from Jerom Lastimosa and Papi Sarr, who combined for 11 of its last 13 points to finish off the pesky JRU.
“It’s hard to play a team that is playing without pressure. But you have to give it to JRU,” admitted coach Franz Pumaren. “I experimented with the new guys in the third quarter and allowed them to do their own thing and it almost caused us the game.”
Along with the no. 1 spot, the Falcons also earned an outright semifinals berth at 9-2.
“If you have told me at the start of the season that we’ll end up as number one, I’ll think you might just be pulling my leg. It’s a surprise on our part because we came to the league with the sole purpose of gaining experience here,” said Pumaren.
Mangati lead with 15 points, Sarr finished with 13 markers and 10 rebounds, and Lastimosa got seven of his 11 points in the payoff period, along with five assists and four boards.
Akari-Adamson now awaits the winner of the quarterfinal clash between four-seed Che’Lu Bar and Grill-San Sebastian and five-seed Gamboa Coffee Mix-St. Clare, which will start on Tuesday.
JRU ended the season with a 2-9 slate as it now shifts its focus to its buildup for the collegiate season.
Apinan scattered 17 points and nine rebounds in the defeat while Paolo Pontejos got 10 markers and seven boards.
AKARI-ADAMSON 71 — Manganti 15, Sarr 13, Lastimosa 11, Ahanmisi 7, Camacho 7, Catapusan 6, Espeleta 5, Pingoy 5, Bernardo 2, Buenaventura 0, Macion 0, Mojica 0, Zaldivar 0.
JRU 64 — Apinan 17, Pontejos 10, De Guzman 9, Porter 9, Mendoza 6, Grospe 5, Dela Virgen 4, Esguerra 2, Perez 2, Bordon 0, Silvarez 0, Yu 0.
Quarters: 22-20, 46-27, 56-47, 71-64.