The San Beda College Red Lions are back in a familiar place, a place where they have been for the last ten years.
With the top seed on the line, and as well as school pride, fifth year foreign student-athlete, Ola Adeogun, made the crucial basket, with 4.4 seconds to go, that gave the San Beda Red Lions an 83-78 cushion against rivals, the Colegio de San Juan de Letran Knights, to gain the top seed heading towards the NCAA Final Four early Tuesday evening at the SM Mall of Asia Arena.
In the first half, the Letran Knights started sluggish compared to their usual pace as their high-octane offense went cold from the field. The Knights were only able to muster 12 points in the opening quarter, while San Beda held a five-point lead with 17 first quarter points. In the second quarter, Javee Mocon was able to score nine points in the quarter, and at one point even outscored the entire production of Letran as he tallied 14 points in the first half. With the returning Dan Sara also gaining the hot hand in the quarter, the defending champions were able to gain the biggest lead of the game, 39-24, midway through the second. The Knights finally found their bearings after a timeout with Mark Cruz leading the way. Cruz erupted for 11 second quarter points that helped cut the SBC lead to just 11, 41-30, to enter halftime.
Seniors Kevin Racal and Mark Cruz opened the second half with back-to-back baskets that sparked a 13-4 run that cut the Beda lead to just two. The nightmare press of the Knights was in full effect during that stretch that forced San Beda to turnovers. Two straight conversions by pro-bound Art dela Cruz helped quell the rally, as the Mendiola Cagers regained a ten-point advantage, 53-43, with 4:40 to go in the third. The Knights later went cold from the field, as they were only able to convert on free throws and inside points the rest of the way while the Red Lions big men pounded the paint. The Red Lions held a 59-48 lead entering the final frame.
Even with Kevin Racal’s explosion to start the fourth, the Red Lion-lead just seemed to not go down as AC Soberano continued were he left off . Just as all seemed lost for the Knights, and with Rey Nambatac succumbing to a mild ankle sprain, the Knights again went into overdrive in the last five minutes in plans of hijacking the game. The Red Lions held a 12 points lead with 3:02 to go with Adeogun punishing the small frontline of the Knights. After a timeout, a triple by Mark Cruz gave life to the Letran crowd. Drawing strength from the Letran faithful, the Muralla street cagers went on a blistering 12-2 rally capped by a corner three by the Ant Man that cut the San Beda lead to just a solitary point. Free throws by Amer gave San Beda a three-point cushion. But after an Amer miss from downtown, Cruz was able to find a free Jom Sollano underneath for an and-one that tied the game at 78-all. After a Jamike Jarin-timeout, the Knights were able to trap well but a last-second find by Ryusei Koga led to an Adeogun-layup. Cruz then missed a three-pointer that could have given Letran the lead. A free throw by Amer and a putback by Adeogun sealed the game for the defending champions, 83-78.
“I have no complains,” said San Beda coach Jamike Jarin after the game. “At least we got the twice-to-beat advantage.” Moreover, he emphasized that what they accomplished in the first round doesn’t matter in the Final Four. “It’s a whole new ballgame.”
Ola Adeogun notched a San Beda-high 21 points and a game-high nine boards. For Jarin, the win should not be entirely credited to Adeogun. “We should give credit to his teammates, not just Ola. All the players on our team stepped up.”
With the tenth straight time that the Red Lions end the elimination round on top, Jarin admitted that there was pressure. “I’d be lying if there was no pressure. San Beda is a big program that has pressure and high expectations. But for me, I was excited to take this challenge because it’s a reunion. It’s just fun to be back home,” he said.
Javee Mocon also played his best game of the season in scoring 16 points, 14 coming in the first half. Art dela Cruz and Dan Sara both added 12 points each as well.
For the Knights, Mark Cruz scored a game-high 29 points on 11 of 19 shooting. He had three triples and dished out four assists. Kevin Racal added 17 points, on a perfect ten of ten shooting from the charity stripe, and grabbed ten boards.
As a team the Red Lions again shot excellently from the field with a 52% clip compared to just 36% for their rivals. They also outrebounded the Knights 52-29.
With the win, both teams will await the result of the JRU Heavy Bombers-Mapua Cardinals tilt. The winner of that match will face the Letran Knights while San Beda faces the loser of that game. The semifinals will start on Tuesday, October 20.
SBC (83) – Adeogun 21, Mocon 16, Sara 12, Dela Cruz 12, Tankoua 10, Soberano 4, Koga 3, Amer 3, Cabanag 2, Reyes 0, Bonsubre 0, Presbitero 0, Tongco 0, Sorela 0, Sedillo 0.
CSJL (78) – Cruz 29, Racal 17, Sollano 9, Quinto 9, Nambatac 8, Balanza 2, Calvo 2, Luib 2, Apreku 0, Publico 0.
Quarterscores: 17-12, 41-30, 59-48, 83-78
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