PASAY CITY – After ten years, Colegio de San Juan de Letran is back as National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) champions! The Knights dethroned five-time champion San Beda College, 85-82, in overtime in Game Three of the best-of-three series Thursday (October 29) at the SM Mall of Asia Arena.
Letran’s historic triumph did not come easy. Up by eight points with 1:53 to play in regulation, 75-67, the Knights’ lead evaporated in the midst of an intense San Beda rally capped by a Baser Amer steal and breakaway layup that tied the score at 75-75 with still 13 seconds remaining.
Kevin Racal tried to win the game but his side jumper at the buzzer missed. Suddenly, the confetti shower prematurely blasted off, prompting a delay as venue staff cleaned the floor.
In the extra period, Jomari Sollano scored the pivotal basket with 32 ticks on the clock to push Letran ahead for good, 83-82. Prior to that, the Red Lions committed a 24-second shot clock violation.
Hoping to extend their five-year reign, the Red Lions missed four straight attempts with Sollano finally collaring the defensive rebound plus a foul from Ola Adeogun. Sollano then made his first free throw but the referees spotted a double-lane violation on the second attempt thus returning possession to Letran.
Left with no choice, Dan Sara fouled Mark Cruz who calmly split his two shots for the final count and three seconds to go. Mychole Sorela then launched a prayer at midcourt that remained unanswered, triggering a wild celebration from the pro-Letran gallery.
“Throughout this season, we became closer to God and we prayed very hard,” said Coach Aldin Ayo. “We just wanted to make the Final Four but when we began to beat the contenders, we knew we had a chance to win it.”
Racal ended his college career on a high note with 23 points and five rebounds. Sollano followed with 19 points and seven rebounds.
Cruz was eventually cited as Finals Most Valuable Player, finishing Game Three with 14 points, six rebounds and seven assists. Rey Nambatac also made up for his scoreless effort in Game Two with 13 points.
Art de la Cruz paced the Red Lions with 15 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists. Amer was next with 14 points and seven assists while Jayvee Mocon also had 14 points and 15 rebounds.
Sollano and Racal dropped a combined 13 points in the first period as Letran jumped to a 20-12 lead. De la Cruz, Sara and Donald Tankoua keyed the Red Lions’ comeback in the second to close in by halftime, 39-40.
“For now, I just want to go home to Sorsogon City and rest,” said Coach Ayo. Before assuming the Knights’ coaching post, Coach Ayo earned his spurs handling school teams in his native province.
The Knights shocked the Red Lions in Game One, 94-90. However, the defending champions bounced back to capture Game Two, 68-61.
How They Scored:
LETRAN (85) – Racal 23, Sollano 19, Cruz 14, Nambatac 13, Luib 5, Publico 4, Quinto 4, Calvo 2, Apreku 1, Balanza 0.
SAN BEDA (82) – de la Cruz 15, Amer 14, Mocon 14, Adeogun 13, Sara 9, Tankoua 6, Koga 5, Tongco 4, Soberano 2, Cabanag 0, Reyes 0, Presbitero 0, Sorela 0, Sedillo.
Period Scores: 20-12, 40-39, 54-52, 75-75 (reg.), 85-82 (OT).