M. LHUILLIER Kwarta Padala Cebu showed the pride of a true champion as it scored a vengeful 75-71 win over bitter rival Misamis Oriental to become the first three-leg winner of the Tournament of the Philippines (TOP) before a jampacked crowd Thursday at the Xavier University in Cagayan de Oro City.

The Niños ripped the game wide apart in the third, wavered midway in the payoff period before coming through with one decisive attack to rule the eight leg of the league jointly organized by Liga Pilipinas and Philippine Basketball League (PBL).

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Mark Ababon best exemplified Cebu's rock-solid poise down the stretch as he knocked down a huge triple over the outstretched arm of Khiel Misa as the visiting Cebuano squad took a 75-71 lead with eight ticks left in the game.

Misa was also whistled for a foul in that play giving Ababon a rare opportunity of completing a four-point play. Though he missed the bonus shot, it was enough to seal the deal.

It was redemption of sorts for the Ni¤os after being mangled by the Misamis Meteors in a fight-marred game at the end of the elims, 64-44, Wednesday. Cebu also topped the opening leg in Manila and the sixth leg which it hosted two weeks ago.

"I asked the players if they want to play in the finals and they said 'yes.' We didn't have the luxury of having a practice session due to security reasons but I told the players that they (Meteors) can break our face but not the heart and pride of a champion," Cebu coach Yayoy Alcoseba said.

The players involved in the near riot -- Cebu's Nat Cruz and Hafer Mondragon and Misamis Oriental's Ronald Lamocha and Kris Lucernas. Lamocha and Lucernas--were slapped one-game suspension each.

Hobe-Taguig, meanwhile, took third place by downing Ascof Lagundi in overtime, 81-74.

Before the game started Misamis Oriental Gov. and Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) chairman Oscar Moreno apologized for the melee even as he recognized the fact that Cebu is a major partner of the province in the formation of the Mindanao-Visayas Basketball Association.

Cheered on by some 5,000 fans, the Meteors rallied strongly from a 54-38 deficit to the lead, 68-65. But the celebration of the home fans died down slowly as Marlon Basco scored all his five points in the next three possession, including a tough shot underneath to regain the initiative, 72-70.