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Late game surge against Benilde keeps Letran atop standings

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The Colegio de San Juan de Letran Knights started slow in their tilt against the College of Saint Benilde Blazers. The Knights needed a late surge to stave-off the officially eliminated Blazers, 79-69, Thursday afternoon at the FilOil Flying V Arena in San Juan City.

The usual Letran defense was displayed by the Knights to start the game as they had an 8-0 surge within minutes including some early five markers from Kevin Racal. After being scoreless after three minutes, Carlo Young nailed a three-ball to start the Blazers’ surge in the middle of the first quarter. St. Benilde built a 13-0 run including strong layups from Jonathan Grey. Meanwhile, Letran was limited to only two field goals in the last stretch of the opening frame and CSB’s JJ Domingo caught fire as he scored the last seven points of his team to give the Blazers a nine point edge after ten minutes of play.

A good exchange of shootout between the two squads was seen at the first part of the second quarter as the full court pressure defense enabled Letran to chip into the lead for a moment. At the last three minutes of the quarter, the Knights sizzled from their three-point sniping as their last four of the last five field goals were all from downtown. CSB was able to trade some points but the hot shooting gave Cruz an and-one play from a pull up jumper at the last moments of the first half as the Knights snatched the lead, 40-38.

The game was stopped at the 5:45 mark of the third quarter due to technical difficulties to the court. At that point, the Blazers held a 45-44 lead as shots from the perimeter were starting to fall for them as well. After the stoppage, no momentum of any sorts was snapped for both teams as they were still firing from anywhere in the floor. Fortunately for the Blazers, an aggressive CSB team suddenly pulled away for a bit in the dying minutes of the third with a 55-48 edge with their driving game on point. On the other end, Letran’s three pointers went wide but three straight buckets in the paint sliced CSB’s lead to two.

Long range bombs by Domingo and Travis Jonson gave Benilde a 62-56 lead to open the final quarter. With the cagers from Taft closing in on an upset win, the Knights turned on the pedal on defense to turn the tides of the game. The veteran quintet of Racal, Cruz, Nambatac, and Luib pressed hard that resulted to clogged passing lanes and contested shots for their opponents. On offense, the pro-bound Racal ran hard on offense while long pull-up jumpers by Cruz and Nambatac gave the league leaders a blitzing 16-5 rally to close the game. The Knights took home its eleventh win of the season, 79-69.

“Hirap na manalo ngayon,” Letran coach Aldin Ayo quipped after the game. “We were good on offense but the defense wasn’t there,” was his assessment of the game. “Good thing nung fourth quarter nakarecover ang mga bata sa depensa.”

Mark Cruz continued his streak of scoring 20+ points in leading the Knights with 20 points on 50% shooting. Cruz had three triples and four assists. McJour Luib also set a career-high with 16 points while adding two boards, two assists, and four steals. Smart Elite ambassador Rey Nambatac continued to struggle from the field in shooting just 1/6 from the field for five points.

For the Blazers, the hot-shooting duo of JJ Domingo and Jonathan Grey combined for 28 points, scoring 14 points each. Grey added three boards, five assists, and three steals in his line but committed six turnovers.

The Letran Knights (11-2) will start the rigorous part of their schedule as they face the Mapua Cardinals on Tuesday, September 15 at 2:00 pm while the Benilde Blazers (3-10) face the JRU Heavy Bombers on the same day at 4:00pm.

The Scores:

CSJL (79) – Cruz 20, Racal 18, Luib 16, Sollano 9, Quinto 9, Nambatac 5, Apreku 2, Calvo 0, Balagasay 0

CSB (69) – Domingo JJ 14, Grey 14, Ongteco 12, Saavedra 10, Nayve 6, Domingo JS 5, Jonson 3, Young 3, Fajarito 2, Deles 0, Sta. Maria 0, Castor 0

Quarters: 13-22, 40-38, 54-56, 79-69

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Fired-up Von Pessumal on Kiefer Ravena incident: ‘I’m not here to make any friends’

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Will bridges be burned?

Von Pessumal was heavily-scrutinized Friday evening after an incident with fellow Ateneo lifer Kiefer Ravena.

It took place with 9:50 left in the final frame of the San Miguel Beermen’s highly-charged tilt against the NLEX Road Warriors. After Marcio Lassiter launched a trey, Pessumal looked like he was aiming for the rebound. Instead, he simply charged towards Ravena and pushed him down.

Lassiter’s three-pointer counted, while Pessumal, who was blocked by Ravena in a fastbreak and then received a staredown moments prior, was whistled for an unsportsmanlike foul.

It was a surprising sight to see considering the amount of time he and Ravena have spent together — a bond that started ever since they were in high school. Even the second-generation star admitted that he did not expect that from his former running body.

“I did not expect that at all,” said the NLEX rookie.

But Pessumal downplayed such incident despite attempts by scribes to make him elaborate what had really transpired during that moment.

“It’s part of the game. It’s part of the game,” the league sophomore said after the match which they won 109-98. “I don’t wanna say anything, I’m sorry.

“It’s part of the game. Whatever move on. Not a big deal.”

Asked if he was motivated to face Ravena, whom he had shared three UAAP juniors titles, two UAAP seniors crowns, and a SEA Games gold medal with, the 24-year-old shared that he approached Friday’s bout the way he usually does.

“I wouldn’t say motivated [versus Kiefer], I mean, it’s just like any other game. When I play, I don’t see who’s guarding me, I just play,” said the 6-foot-2 swingman.

“I play to win all the time.”

The incident he and Ravena figured in shadowed his performance of 10 points on 50 percent shooting off the bench — the second time he had scored in double figures this season. After Friday, Pessumal is averaging 8.25 points.

“We have to sustain the level of excellence that they (starters) have. Our job is — I wouldn’t say support, but — when we get in, we should bring the level higher so when they come back, the game is easier for them,” he said.

Pessumal was then asked if he and Ravena met each other after the buzzer sounded as the two did not even shake hands after the contest. But, through a short yet strong response, the 24-year-old said that they did not.

“I wouldn’t say anything. I don’t know, after the game?,” he expressed.

“I’m a professional basketball player, I’m not here to make any friends.”

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Yeng Guiao denies using racial slur against Chris Ross

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During the post-game of the San Miguel Beermen’s victory over the NLEX Road Warriors, reigning Coach of the Year Leo Austria said that NLEX head coach Yeng Guiao called Chris Ross the “N” word that caused the commotion.

According to Chris, tinawagan siya ng nigger or ganiyan,” said Austria. “I don’t know but that’s what he explained to me because I confronted Chris Ross because he’s one of the most important players in my team.

“But that’s the thing he doesn’t want to hear so nagflare up yung bata so I cannot blame him.”

Guiao though denied that he blurted out racial slurs against San Miguel’s Chris Ross.

“Hindi. Hindi ko tinawag na N-word. Ewan ko kung may nakarinig. Pero hindi,” clarified the fiery tactician moments after their 98-109 defeat, their third straight after starting the 2018 Philippine Cup with two straight wins.

That tussle, according to Guiao, was just filled with trash talking against each other, as he felt the need to retaliate. In fact, Guiao was even caught by the TV camera saying “son of a bitch” towards the Filipino-American point guard.

“Daldal siya ng daldal eh. Eh sa akin naman kapag ganon, siguro respeto nalang. Lumayo ka nalang tutal mananalo naman na kayo,” he said. “I didn’t understand what he was saying, what he was talking about.

“Nakipagtrash-talking din ako sa kanya.”

Furthermore, the 58-year-old was also caught by the cameras flipping the bird — in one quick motion — also against Ross.

“Oo. Kasama na rin yun.

“Pero ano naman eh, it’s part of, siguro, psychological warfare. Malakas din siya mang-asar. Hindi lang naman sa amin. Everytime naman na mga ganoong skirmishes, he also knows what he’s capable of,” the seven-time champion coach furthered.

But more than this scuffle, it really has become a stressful time for Guiao and the Road Warriors. They have now went down to 2-3 in the team standings, and the mentor sees the great need to end this slump immediately.

“We have to arrest it very soon. Ang susunod na laro namin ay versus Rain or Shine sa Friday. So we need to go back to 50 percent win-loss level para at least may chance ka na maka-playoffs. That’s going to be a crucial game for us,” he stressed.

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Kiefer Ravena shocked with Von Pessumal’s shove: ‘I did not expect that at all’

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Kiefer Ravena and Von Pessumal have been teammates ever since they were in high school, winning three UAAP juniors crowns together. They won two championships together in the seniors level and even played together in Gilas. They were inseparable.

Friday evening however, they were playing for separate camps.

Ravena admitted that he never expected a shove to come from Pessumal during the NLEX Road Warriors’ clash with San Miguel Beermen.

In an off-ball situation, Pessumal charged at Ravena, sending the rookie down to the floor with 9:50 remaining in the final frame. He was then whistled for an unsportsmanlike foul, and Ravena sank one from the line.

“I did not expect that at all,” admitted Ravena after the match in which they lost, 98-109 — their third straight defeat after a 2-0 start. “But hopefully Von doesn’t take it personal.

“I’m just doing my job. They won the game.”

Ravena insisted that there wasn’t any physicality between him and Pessumal prior to that, but he thinks that his former Gilas teammate may have gotten irked by his staredown after blocking him on a fastbreak play early in the fourth.

“When that fastbreak happened — the same exact possession na I challenged him, I looked at him, and after that yun na yung nangyari,” said the 23-year-old guard. “But I never instigated something to provoke Von to do that.

“Probably nung tinignan ko siya.”

Moreover, the second overall pick of the 2017 PBA Rookie Draft felt that that incident “started all the commotions during the end game (laughs). Yun yung pinaka-una eh. And with that, the team got fired up and it worked for them.”

He may be right, for the game saw more skirmishes after that: from teammate Michael Miranda kicking Chris Ross to the groin, and with his head coach Yeng Guiao figuring in a heated verbal war also against Ross.

But then, Ravena made it clear that it was never a plan of his to put down somebody, especially someone like Pessumal who he sees as a brother for life.

“You know, Von and I, we go way back. Things like this hopefully don’t become too personal.

“I have no intention na ipapahiya yung tao or sasaktan mo yung tao. Wala namang ganun. Laro-laro lang,” said NLEX’s leading scorer.

It was somehow a night to remember for Ravena, but for all the wrong reasons. After Friday’s loss that sent their card to 2-3, the veteran internationalist now sees the need for him and the Road Warriors to push the panic button.

“‘Di na pwedeng sabihin palaging kailangan namin matuto eh. Pangatlong sunod na,” the second-generation cager expressed.

“Kailangan siguro naming umaksyon.”

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Downcast Chris Ross chooses to stay mum after heated altercation with Yeng Guiao

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Through wins or losses, Chris Ross has always accommodated the members of the press asking for interviews and fans requesting for photo ops every after game. But Friday evening, the nine-year pro was despondent.

Visibly agitated with the events that had transpired during the San Miguel Beermen’s tilt against the NLEX Road Warriors, Ross, with his hoodie covering his head, left the Cuneta Astrodome without saying a word.

The reigning Defensive Player of the Year had figured in physical play after physical play and verbal exchange after verbal exchange with the frustrated Road Warriors.

Ross and Alex Mallari were both slapped with technicals after a confrontation with 9:06 left. This was just the start of many things to come for the Filipino-American defensive specialist

After knocking down a triple and receiving a taunt from Ross, Michael Miranda was assessed a disqualifying foul for an apparent kick to the groin against Ross with 4:35 left.

The tip of the iceberg came with 1:46 left to play and the game all but settled.

Yeng Guiao and Ross figured in a heated word war that resulted in Ross’ second technical foul for the game. Referees and players from both sides had to separate the two to prevent things from escalating.

San Miguel coach Leo Austria alleged that the fiery NLEX mentor said the “N” word, while some said Guiao called Ross a “bitch”.

Ross finished the game with four points, eight rebounds, and four steals in 37 minutes of action.

For sure, penalties and suspensions will come out of this game.

And it was better for Ross to stay silent.

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