MARINERONG Pilipino-San Beda fended off Centro Escolar U, 81-72, to secure the No. 1 seed and an outright semifinal ticket in the 2023 PBA Aspirants' Cup Tuesday at the Filoil EcoOil Centre in San Juan.
The Red Lions wasted a 17-point lead in the first half but saved their best for last behind a 9-1 closeout to break free from the pesky Scorpions and notch their fifth straight win.
San Beda's lone loss came against neophyte PSP Gymers in the league's opener last April 27.
"The incentive of being No. 1 and being in the semis is of course a welcome for us but at the same time, hindi kami pwede mag-relax. Tataas 'yung laro sa playoffs so we have to be prepared," said San Beda coach Yuri Escueta.
Jacob Cortez scattered 15 points that went with his five rebounds, four assists and three steals to show the way for San Beda, which relinquished a 36-19 lead in the second period.
Team captain Peter Alfaro and Yukien Andrada posted 11 points apiece while Clifford Jopia added 11 points and 16 rebounds for the Red Lions.
Ron Rei Tolentino bucket midway through the third gave CEU a 54-52 lead but the Red Lions quickly recovered and grabbed a slim 60-57 edge entering the payoff period.
It was a see-saw battle in the fourth quarter before the Red Lions put the clamps down on the Scorpions in the last five minutes by holding their opponents to just a point the rest of the way.
Tolentino had 25 points for the Scorpions (3-3), who are assured of a quarterfinal berth. (JBU)
Marinero-San Beda 81 - Cortez 15, Alfaro 11, Andrada 11, Jopia 11, Payosing 9 Visser 8, Cuntapay 7, Tagle 5, Puno 2, Royo 2, Jalbuena 0, Tagala 0, Gallego 0.
CEU 72 - Tolentino 15, Santos 15, Diaz 12, Balogun 6, Bernabe 5, Borromeo 4, Puray 3, Cabotaje 2, Pe?ano 0, Joson 0, Ferrer 0, Anagbogu 0.
Quartescores: 19-13, 42-31, 60-57, 81-72.