By Leobert Julian A. de la Peña
The Iloilo United Royals halted its playoffs campaign after losing to the Nueva Ecija Rice Vanguards, 84-67, in the quarterfinals of the 2021 Chooks-to-Go Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League (MPBL).
Nueva Ecija’s big man Michael Mabulac was unstoppable underneath and forced his way to 17 huge points while pulling down 11 rebounds.
It was the United Royals who were dictating the pace in the first minutes of the first canto as they just kept on feeding Ilonggo Aaron Jeruta at the post who was defended by the smaller Chris Bitoon.
The strategy was effective for the United Royals but with six minutes left in the first quarter, it didn’t take long for the Rice Vanguards to take over the lead as their swift offensive attack overwhelmed Iloilo.
Byron Villarias was also unconscious from the field and was able to answer Iloilo’s baskets whenever the United Royals attempted to make a big run.
Jeruta cut the deficit to just nine with five minutes left in the fourth but it was Villarias who added more cushion for the Rice Vanguards as he answered back with five straight points to put the lead back to 14.
“Overall from the start the team has been very enthusiastic. There’s a good mix of veteran and youth in the team like Justin Gutang and Will Gozum seems to be the youthful energy and players like Mike Mabulac and gives you that stability in the team,” said Nueva Ecija head coach Carlo Tan.