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Cruz sparks rally to keep Letran undefeated

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Down 66-53, fifth year point guard Mark Cruz sparked an epic fourth quarter rally to give the Colegio de San Juan de Letran (CSJL) Knights its best start since the 2008 season with an 82-76 win over the San Sebastian Golden Stags Tuesday evening at the Filoil Flying V Arena in San Juan.

The first half was a close knit affair as the Knights led by four to end the first quarter. Jon Ortouste then sparked a huge second quarter in scoring majority of his 19 first half points in the second quarter capped by a buzzer beating three pointer from beyond half court to end the half. Even when big man Bradwyn Guinto was plagued with foul trouble, the front line of the Stags, led by Michael Calisaan, outrebounded the undersized Knights squad 22-10 that led to 14 second chance points for San Sebastian. This was able to set-off the 21 first half turnovers, that led to 17 turnover points, they had. Moreover, the trio of Mark Cruz, Rey Nambatac, and Jomari Sollano combined for 30 points. Entering halftime, the score was 45-39 in favor of the Stags.

The Golden Stags were able to extend the lead to ten points to open the second half. After a non-call by the officials as Nambatac fell from a Jeick Fabian steal attempt at the 8:48 mark, fiery head coach Aldin Ayo scolded the officials that resulted to a technical foul. Afterwards, fired-up by what happened, Cruz rallied his team in scoring four points in a six point run to cut the lead to four, 45-49. San Sebastian was able to quell the rally as the Stags displayed great transition defense in clogging the passing lanes. Fabian was able to end the quarter with a layup to extend the lead to ten, 62-52 to end enter the fourth quarter.

A high banker by Ryan Costelo and a Costelo assist to a cutting Jayson David gave the Stags their biggest lead of the game 66-53. Moreover, the Muralla-based squad further was plagued with their fifth team foul in just the 5:23 mark of the quarter. Back-to-back three pointers by Mark Cruz and Bong Quinto and a layup by the latter cut the lead to just five 66-61. Another three pointer by Cruz cut the lead to just four points. However, the unneccassary fouls committed by the Knights resulted to three San Sebastian free throws and a hook by Guinto. The Knights then went back to its grinding defense that resulted to turnovers for the Stags. After a three pointer by Cruz and a putback by Sollano that tied the game at 73-all, Costelo was able to locate an open Ortouste for a corner three pointer. In the next play, McJour Luib called for an elevator play that resulted to pintsized team captain, Mark Cruz, to knockdown a top-of-the-arc three pointer plus the harm to give Letran a solitary point lead, 77-76. Nambatac was able to steal the ball after and was able to knockdown a corner three pointer to extend the lead to four. A missed three-pointer by Ortouste ended the Stags’ hopes and resulted to a huge comeback win by Letran, 82-76.

Mark Cruz was speechless after the epic rally he led. “Ang nangyari kasi nahulog kami sa laro nila [San Sebastian]. Sabi ni coach [Ayo], ‘sila ang kelangan na maglaro sa game namin,’” an exhausted Cruz said. “Di kami tumigil at nandun pa rin ang puso namin.”

For the final play, head coach Aldin Ayo commended the composure displayed by McJour Luib. “Sa dinami-dami ng plays namin buti naisip ni McJour tawagin ang ‘elevator play’ namin,” the rookie coach said. A move also commended by Cruz, “lagi namin tinatawag yung play na yun, sabi ko na lang gagawin ko ang lahat para maipasok yun. Buti na lang pumasok.”

The now 4-0 Knights were led by the 29 huge points of Mark Cruz. Cruz knocked down six three pointers, dished out five assists, and stole the ball seven times. Rey Nambatac had 20 points and three steals as well. For the Stags, Jon Ortouste had 19 points in the first half but only had 25 points after the game. Michael Calisaan notched another double-double with 16 points and 13 rebounds. However, Bradwyn Guinto only had 4 points in 26 minutes of play. Moreover, Guinto and Costelo combined for 19 turnovers.

As a team, the Knights were able to force a season-high 43 turnovers against the Stags that resulted to a whopping 42 turnover points. The Stags outrebounded the Knights 42-26 and outshot them 51% to 40%.

The CSJL Knights (4-0) will next face the UPHSD Altas (4-0) on Thursday, July 23 at 4:00pm while the SSC-R Golden Stags (1-3) face the AU Chiefs (3-1) on Friday, July 24 at 4:00pm.

The Scores:
CSJL (82) – Cruz 29, Nambatac 20, Sollano 13, Quinto 9, Racal 7, Luib 2, Publico 2, Apreku 0, Calvo 0, Balagaysay 0.
SSC-R (76) – Ortouste 25, Calisaan 16, Fabian 11, Costelo 10, David 6, Guinto 4, Sibal 2, Capobres 2, Santos 0, Pretta 0, Vera 0.
Quarterscores: 27-23, 39-45, 52-62, 82-76.

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