All streaks must end.
The Perpetual Altas handed the LPU Pirates their first elimination round loss since 2016. Tied at 81 points towards the end of a furious fourth quarter, the Altas’ had the ball. Rookie Edgar Charcos, who had already scored 20 points, passed it to Tonton Peralta. Peralta missed, but Prince Eze caught it under the basket and put it back for the win.
This is a big deal. Not just because underdog stories are fun, nor because the Altas pulled Eze to the ground, piled on top of him and celebrated as though they had won the championship; but for what it means for the rest of NCAA Season 94.
1. Prince Eze is MVP material
Before that game, I made a ranking of the foreign student athletes in NCAA Season 94, and even then Eze was at the top of the list. But I wondered whether he could match the importance of legendary locals like CJay Perez and Robert Bolick. After his game-winner, it’s official: Perez is to Lyceum as Bolick is to San Beda as Eze is to Perpetual.
This is Eze’s second game-winner of the season, and it illustrates Eze’s key strengths. Lyceum’s Mike Harry Nzeusseu was actually closer to the ball, but as the tallest, biggest player in the league, Eze was able to reach from behind Nzeusseu and grab the ball with ease. In this particular moment, Eze was also more active than Nzeusseu, who was not able to react in time to fight for the ball nor bother Eze’s shot. And when you know Perpetual leads the league in second-chance points, that’s a recipe for trouble.
“With the minutes I’m giving him, I’m expecting MVP-level output,” Coach Frankie Lim said of Prince Eze at the start of the season. Lim has a history of success in coaxing the best out of foreign centers back when he coaches San Beda, and the same can be seen in Eze’s growth.
2. The Altas have the quickest growth in the league
It took Benilde a full season to gel under Coach TY Tang and transform from Designated Kawawa to a Final Four contender in NCAA Season 94. Letran’s rebuilding phase under Coach Jeff Napa lasted two seasons. Lyceum themselves shed their cellar-dwelling past in their third year with Coach Topex Robinson, and it took a team-wide culture shift and the acquisition of Perez and the Marcelino twins.
It’s a real feat, then, that the Perpetual Altas are showing this much growth on their first year with Lim. Even more impressive, considering how depressing last year was for the squad, and that Lim only took on the job in January 2018.
In that short span of time, Eze has come into his own, team captain AJ Coronel has become a reliable force, and rookies like Jielo Razon and Edgar Charcos are playing with confidence that some of Perpetual’s veterans last year did not have. If the NCAA was Silicon Valley Season 1, the Altas would be the Pied Piper to established teams like San Beda/Hooli—a startup that came out of left field to become the disruptor of the season.
No wonder Coronel had this to say about NCAA Season 94: “Pasarap nang pasarap maglaro sa Perpetual.”
3. The Final Four Race got a lot more interesting
General fan assumption towards the Final Four has been Lyceum and San Beda will take the top two spots, perhaps only losing to each other, then CSB, Letran and Perpetual can melée for the last two slots. Lyceum and San Beda will beat whoever they’re matched up against, and we’ll have a finals that’s a rematch of last season.
Perpetual beating Lyceum shakes things up in a great way. If the Altas can beat the Pirates, they have a shot at beating San Beda, CSB and Letran. Similarly, if the Pirates can lose to the Altas, they can lose to San Beda, CSB and Letran. If the Altas are playing like this with half of the second round still left, who knows what they’ll do if they make it to the Final Four? What’s for sure is this forces all Final Four contenders—top dogs and up-and-coming squads alike—to take their game even higher.