(philstar.com)

MANILA, Philippines – Perpetual Help ended years of Final Four heartbreak against nemesis San Beda as it eked out a giant-sized 87-83 victory Friday to stay in the finals hunt in the 92nd NCAA basketball tournament at the MOA Arena in Pasay City.

Gab Dagangon found the right time to dish out a career game as he exploded with 27 points, 11 of which came in the fourth quarter when the Altas fought off elimination and arranged a sudden death game on Tuesday for a spot in the best-of-three championship round starting Oct. 6.

It was the Las Pinas-based school’s first Final Four win over San Beda after the former lost three straight seasons from 2012 to 2014.

The Altas’ last Final Four triumph over the Lions came 12 seasons ago on their way to the finals where they eventually lost to the Phl Christian U Dolphins.

The win was so special for Perpetual Help that the players hugged each other and celebrated on the court as if they have won a championship.

“This win made up for all our past heartaches, it was really a special moment,” said Perpetual Help coach Jimwell Gican in Filipino. “But we can’t celebrate fully yet because there is still one game to be won on Tuesday.”

The Altas are also seeking to become the first No. 4 seed to ever beat a No. 1 team since the Final Four format was introduced in 1998 if they go on to complete the shock win over the Lions, the top-seeded team for the 11th straight season.

Nigerian Bright Akhuetie returned from a team-imposed one-game suspension by coming through with 15 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks to help Perpetual Help inch closer from booking its first finals appearance since making that far in 2004.

“I just want to win just like my teammates,” said Akhuetie, who had also shook hands with team consultant and countryman Nosa Omorogbe after the two had an emotional flare up in one of their practices last week paving the way for his return.

Daryl Singontiko, a rookie transferee out of Letran, also came through by firing 15 points including a clutch triple in the stretch.

After San Beda scored five straight points to start the game, the Altas unleashed a 21-4 blitz anchored on Dagangon, Singontiko and Genmar Ilagan to seize a 21-9 lead at the end of the opening quarter.

Robert Bolick then dropped a 17-point barrage to will the Lions back in cutting down the Altas’ lead to 41-36. He finished with 21 first half points and never scored the rest of the way.

San Beda coach Jamike Jarin said it was the bad start that did them in.

“We had a bad start and we have to give credit to Perpetual Help for playing really good defense. We were just outplayed at the start of the game,” said Jarin.

Jarin, however, vowed to bounce back strong.

“We’re definitely giving everything on Tuesday,” he said.

Trailing by just two points after Dagangon drained a jumper, San Beda actually had a chance to steal the game but AC Soberano missed a triple with 19 seconds to go.

San Beda went on a fouling spree to reach penalty and when it did, Kieth Pido responded by sinking two pressure-packed free throws to seal it for Perpetual Help.

The Scores:

Perpetual Help (87) – Dagangon 27, Akhuetie 15, Singontiko 15, Hao 8, Ilagan 8, Coronel 6, Pido 6, Sadiwa 2, Eze 0, Gallardo 0, Mangalino 0.

San Beda (83) – Bolick 21, Soberano 16, Noah 14, Potts 12, Mocon 8, Adamos 6, Optana 2, Prebitero 2, Sara 2, Alas 0, Bonsubre 0, Carlos 0, Navarro 0, Tongco 0.

Quarterscores: 21-9, 41-36, 60-62, 87-83.