SAN JUAN City – The Letran College Knights continued their surprising performance by scoring their third straight win by downing no less than defending champion and bitter rival San Beda College, 93-80, at the 91st National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) games at the San Juan Arena Thursday (July 16). The Knights under rookie coach Aldin Ayo thus earned a share of the league leadership with idle University of Perpetual Help System-Dalta at 3-0.
Employing one of the most effective defensive schemes in recent seasons, the Knights forced the Red Lions into a maze of errors in the first period to erect a 17-4 lead behind Kevin Racal, Jomari Sollano and JP Calvo. San Beda settled down and closed the gap at period’s end, 15-21.
With momentum now shifting to their side, the Red Lions scored the first six points of the second period starting with a basket by Baser Amer and back to back hits by Art de la Cruz to force the game’s sole deadlock, 21-21. The Knights readily countered with Rey Nambatac accounting for 10 points coupled with timely baskets by Racal, Mark Cruz and Felix Apreku to pull away by 21 markers nearing halftime, 52-31.
San Beda came roaring back again and sliced the deficit to only a dozen, 46-58, but Nambatac and Cruz doused cold water on the rally with three unanswered triples, 67-46, restoring their 21-point cushion. Cruz had to leave the game with severe cramps with three minutes left and the Red Lions saw it as their cue for one final attempt to salvage the game and keep their spotless record intact.
Ryusei Koga finally connected on a triple to threaten at the 1:31 mark, 76-81. Letran answered back behind two free throws by McJour Luib and a crucial field goal by Racal to stretch their lead by nine with a minute left on the clock, 85-76.
That was all the Knights needed as San Beda could not make any more dents. Calvo and Racal sealed the deal from the free throw line and Luib added a breakaway layup to settle the final count.
“I always remember the two times San Beda defeated us in the finals,” said Racal, a graduating senior. “That is my motivation that hopefully I give my school a championship before I leave.”
Racal, who missed the latter portion of last season due to a serious knee injury, continued his impressive recovery with 20 points and eight rebounds. Despite the cramps, Cruz racked up good statistics of 16 points, seven rebounds and seven assists.
“The thing I like about this team is that any of the 15 players can play,” said Coach Ayo. “The preparation for this game was very hard on my part because I watched videos of San Beda’s games many times and in the end I just decided to stick to our system of pressuring defense and good execution on offense.”
Letran’s defense has been the talk of the NCAA, earning labels such as “disruptive” and “chaotic”. The Knights have given up an average of 65.0 points in their three wins, tops among the 10-school field.
Awakening from their lackluster play in the first three periods, Ola Adeogun and Art de la Cruz churned out twin digits each in the final period but it was not enough. Adeogun still paced the Red Lions with 20 points and seven rebounds while de la Cruz had a double-double of 18 points and 14 rebounds.
Aside from the loss, the Red Lions’ long-term campaign hit a major roadblock as Amer reinjured his shoulder in the second canto and never returned. The initial diagnosis points to Amer possibly skipping the rest of the elimination phase at the least.
In Junior Division action, the Red Cubs smashed the Squires, 99-59. Addie Velasquez came off the bench to score 12 of his 18 points in the pivotal third period that saw the Red Cubs of Coach JB Sison outscore the Squires, 33-10, turning the game into a runaway.
Meanwhile, the Lyceum of the Philippines University Pirates leaned on the triple of Shaquille Alanes with 39 ticks left followed by two clutch free throws with a second left to frustrate the College of Saint Benilde Blazers, 72-69, and give Coach Topex Robinson his first win after two losses. It was a double celebration as the Junior Pirates of Coach LA Mumar rallied in the fourth period behind Mclaude Guadana and Jun Cecilia to clip La Salle Green Hills, 83-80.
How They Scored:
SAN BEDA-RIZAL (99) – Velasquez 18, Nayve 14, Nelle 12, Alfaro 9, Tagala 8, Abuhijle 8, Mahinay 7, Bordeos 6, Lagumen 6, de la Rosa 3, Sese 3, Samaniego 2, Bonalos 2, Barbero 1, Etrata 0.
LETRAN (59) – Cordero 18, Tamayo 12, David 10, E. Villanueva 7, J. Villanueva 4, Sabile 4, Maneze 2, Castro 2, Caalaman 0, Diaz 0, Felomino 0, Villarete 0, Montes 0.
Period Scores: 25-17, 44-38, 77-48, 99-59.
LETRAN (93) – Racal 20, Cruz 16, Nambatac 13, Calvo 12, Sollano 10, Apreku 9, Luib 6, Quinto 5, Balanza 2, Balagasay 0, Publico 0.
SAN BEDA (80) – Adeogun 20, de la Cruz 18, Amer 10, Koga 7, Tongco 7, Tankoua 6, Cabanag 4, Mocon 4, Sorela 4, Reyes 0, Bonsubre 0, Presbitero 0, Sedillo 0.
Period Scores: 21-15, 52-33, 67-53, 93-80.