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Clutch Cruz saves Letran from Arellano

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Sitting out much of the game due to an injury, fifth year point guard, Mark Cruz returned just in time to buoy his Colegio San Juan de Letran Letran Knights over the Arellano University Chiefs, 87-81, capping the NCAA Season 91’s most frantic Friday at the FilOil Flying V Arena in San Juan City.

With both teams trading triples to start match, action slowed down gradually with each team settling in on defense. Second-year Arellano big man, Dioncee Holts controlled the paint in the first quarter, scoring six points mainly off putbacks. Letran forced a tie at 13-all with less than four minutes in the first quarter clock but suddenly let Arellano burst ahead with four consecutive transition buckets, placing the Chiefs ahead, 21-13 heading into the second quarter.

Arellano University swelled early in the second quarter with Chiefs’ third string point guard, Kenneth Zamora drilling back-to-back trifectas that pulled his team ahead 29-15. Aggressively attacking the paint, the Knights slowly whittled the deficit down at the charity stripe, going 11/15 in the quarter alone. The boys in blue, however, kept the Chiefs at bay with transition baskets and putbacks which their point guard Jio Jalalon produced through hia constant poking and prodding of Letran’s defense. Although Jalalon had only four points at the half, he already tallied aix assists and a bunch of unrecorded hockey assists, leading Arellano to 48-38 lead.

Arellano threatened to expand their advantage with Jalalon draining shots early in the second half. With Cruz nursing his injury, backup Letran point guard, JP Calvo kept the Intramuros-based squad in the match, contributing six points in the third period. His fastbreak layup cut the Letran advantage down to two, 60-62, baskets from Brylle Meca and charities from Jalalon kept AU up, 69-63 heading into the payoff period.

Technical delays momentarily halted action early in the fourth period, but Arellano shrugged it off and went on a 7-2 run that seemingly put the game out of reach as they led 76-65 with less than six minutes to go. Cruz made his return to the jubilation of a restless Knights’ crowd and immediately made an impact. After Nambatac hit a transition layup, Cruz drained a triple that brought Letran to within five, 76-71. After a stop, Nambatac hurdled down the other end and earned a bang and a bucket. The third year forward missed a bonus free throw but Felix Aprecu soared in to grab the offensive board opening the door for a Cruz to punish the Chiefs with another triple that tied the match at 76. The Ant Man tried his luck in the following possession, firing off a quick three but missed. Luckily a fired up Aprecu careened into the play, tipping the miss in and drawing a foul all in one motion. The Laguna native hit the ensuing charity for his only three points and gave Letran the lead for the first time in the game, 79-76 with less than two minutes to go. Arellano swingman, Zach Nicholls countered with a triple off a timeout but the Canadian surrendered ill-advised fouls in the following possessions that kept Letran ahead. Letran guard, Mcjour Luib and Cruz drained two free throws each for an 83-79 Letran lead. Arellano called for time with 38 ticks left on the game clock but the Chiefs coughed the ball up in the following play, sealing Letran’s win as Mark Cruz drained his charities off the intentional fouls.

Smart Elite ambassador Rey Nambatac finally returned to old form in scoring 21 points. He was 8/18 from the field and was 3/4 from the foul line. He also grabbed 11 huge boards. Mark Cruz complemented the effort with 20 points, eight coming from the charity stripe.

“Yun nga e, naisip namin na bumababa yung laro namin. Di naman nawala kumpiyansa namin kasi yung goal is to make the Final Four,” said Letran junior Rey Nambatac after the game. “Kahit nung lumamang sila di kami bumigay. Teamwork talaga. Di kami bumigay, puso lang talaga.

For the falling Chiefs, American student-athlete Dioncee Holts led the team with 16 markers and 7 boards. Smart Elite ambassador Jio Jalalon played 36 minutes and recorded a statling of 14 points, 7 boards, 7 dimes, and two steals.

As a team, the Chiefs shot better from the field at 42% compared to 36% by the victors. However, the Knights were able to outrebounds their opponents 56-40 that led to 22 second chance points.

The Knights, who have clinched a playoff spot, will next face the Perpetual Altas on Friday, October 2 at 4:00pm while the Arellano Chiefs need to bounce back but will have a tough obstacle facing them as they face the San Beda Red Lions on Thursday, October 1 at 4:00pm.

The Scores:

CSJL (87) – Nambatac 21, Cruz 20, Racal 17, Sollano 10, Calvo 9, Publico 4, Apreku 3, Luib 2, Balagasay 1, Balanza 0, Quinto 0, Gedaria 0.

AU (81) – Holts 16, Enriquez 14, Jalalon 14, Zamora 12, Meca 8, Nicholls 6, Gumaru 5, Salado 2, Cadavis 2, Bangga 2, Ortega 0, Capara 0.

Quarters: 13-21, 38-46, 63-69, 87-81.

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Miguel Luis Flores fell face first into sports writing in high sch9l and has never gotten up. He reluctantly stumbled into the volleyball beat when he started with Tiebreaker Times three years ago. Now, he has waded through everything volleyball - from its icky politics to the post-modern art that is Jia Morado's setting.

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