After playing a tight first half, the Colegio de San Juan de Letran (CSJL) Knights took off and blitzed in a 78-69 win due to their impeccable defense all-game long to maintain their immaculate record after five games against the University of Perpetual Help System DALTA (UPHSD) Altas at the Filoil Flying V Arena on Thursday afternoon.
As good as advertised, the battle of the top two teams went on a back-and-forth pace with no team gaining full momentum in the match. Letran jumped to a 5-0 start, but Perpetual was able to stay within the course of the Knights’ full court pressure defense. The start was the quarter’s biggest lead as the two squads went on a frantic exchange the rest of the period. Letran’s bench went to made baskets inside, but it was Perpetual who held a one-point edge after 10 minutes of play.
The first half was played on a slower atmosphere with the physicality of the defensive game starting to take place. After two quarters, Perpetual already shot 17 attempts from the free-throw stripe. Mark Cruz, however, shot a couple of baskets to give his team a 36-31 lead. Scottie Thompson replied when he drained three free throws before the half expired to maintain the closely-contested game. The defensive intensity held the two teams to combine for a whopping 25 turnovers in the first half.
Letran turned up their intense defense by a notch to start the second half as they blitzed to a 7-0 run within a minute to put distance against Perpetual. Cruz became the facilitator, while Rey Nambatac piled up the buckets, as the Knights were able to lead by as much as double-digits during the third frame. From that point, every basket made by Perpetual was countered by the Knights to keep their opponents at bay.
Thompson tried to ignite a rally for the Altas as he made the initial baskets in the fourth, mostly in transition. Unfortunately for Perpetual, Knights were able to respond until the final buzzer with John Calvo, Kier Quinto, and Kevin Racal providing the necessary baskets. By the last minutes of the game, the final score was the last thing to be determined as Letran were able to establish a good hold of the lead at that point.
“We are in the right spot and a good position,” CSJL head coach Aldin Ayo said after the game. “In terms of achievement, we haven’t done anything yet. We still have 13 more games before the playoffs,” he said about the teams current 5-0 standing. Moreover, the team did not practice a day before this game to relax the players. The only players that were called upon were Jomari Sollano and the team’s other big men. “Pinatawag ko sill and we watched video para makita kung paano i-stop si Bright.”
The Letran backcourt of Mark Cruz and Rey Nambatac combined for 30 points in the game. Cruz was 5/8 from the field including three three-pointers while Nambatac filled up the stat sheets in adding seven boards and five steals. Jomar Sollano added 14 points, six rebounds, three blocks, and three steals. Moreover, he helped limit league leading scorer Bright Akhuetie to just seven points and six boards. Scottie Thompson, meanwhile, had 22 points, nine rebounds, and six assists but committed seven turnovers.
As a team, the Letran Knights shot 45% from the field compared to 37% by UPHSD. The Altas committed 27 turnovers that led to 25 turnover points as well.
Perpetual’s (4-1) next game will be up against San Beda, 4pm on Tuesday while Letran (5-0) has Arellano for its next assignment to be played next Friday at 4pm.
CSJL (79) – Nambatac 15, Cruz 15, Sollano 14, Racal 11, Luib 8, Quinto 8, Calvo 4, Apreku 2, Publico 2, Buenaflor 0.
UPHSD (71) – Thompson 22, Dagangon 12, Eze 10, Akhuetie 7, Ylagan 6, Coronel 5, Dizon 3, Oliveria 2, Elopre 2, Gallardo 1, Sadiwa 1, Tamayo 0, Cabiltes 0, Pido 0.
Quarterscores: 16-17, 36-34, 58-51, 78-69