“Tama na yung sakit!”
The Colegio de San Juan de Letran Knights’ ten-year odyssey for its 17th NCAA Championship has ended.
After failed attempts, coaching changes, and heartbreaks, seniors Mark Cruz and Kevin Alas can finally be called champions. The Letran Knights took three games and a total of 125 minutes to end the five-year reign of the San Beda College Red Lions, 85-82, early Thursday evening at the SM Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.
There was no shortage of offensive power for the two teams in the opening quarter. There were three lead exchanges before Letran’s strong defense led them to four fast break layups. In the middle of the period, Sollano, Cruz, and Racal combined for an 8-0 spurt to give the Knights a 16-7 lead. Despite a mini-run put up by San Beda late in the first, Rey Nambatac sank in a shot at the buzzer to give his team an 8-point edge.
Though Letran led by as much as 10 in the early moments of the second frame, the Red Lions roared back with a 12-4 counter with the help of good ball movement in their scoring. San Beda inked in four huge threes before the first half ended, including a Dan Sara triple that gave the Lions the lead momentarily. The intense match paused for a breath at the half, with Letran up by a point.
Neither team hit scoring runs in the third quarter, with the game going back and forth. Javee Mocon and Jom Sollano had a good duel of key baskets, as the two knocked down a combined 15 points for their respective schools. San Beda held the lead for a short time but another buzzer-beating shot by Letran – courtesy of Quinto – gave the Knights the lead heading into the final period.
Letran extended their lead to as high as 8 late in the 1:53 mark with Kevin Racal drilling 3 three-pointers in the fourth period while Cruz added a big one. After a timeout, San Beda put together a last spurt in regulation time as they strung up the fourth quarter’s last 8 points to force overtime. Their big three of Adeogun, Dela Cruz and Amer combined to extend the game. Racal had a shot to win but came up short en route to overtime.
In overtime, McJour Luib opened the festivities with a steal and fastbreak layup to draw first blood in added time. However, Baser Amer came up clutch with ball distribution and a big floater in the 1:27 mark to give the Red Lions an 82-79 edge. Fortunately for the Knights, they would silence San Beda in the final stretch, while Racal made two free throws to trim the lead. After a 24 second violation was called on the defending champions, the San Beda defense collapsed on Cruz but to no avail; the pint-sized guard was able to find Sollano for a jumper. With no time outs left for San Beda, misses by Amer and Dela Cruz led to Adeogun fouling Sollano. The undersized center split his free throws, but the Mediola cagers were called for a double-lane violation. A split on the stripe by Cruz with 3.7 seconds to go gave Letran an 85-82 lead but, with just 3.7 seconds remaining and no timeouts, San Beda could not attempt a shot.
Mark Cruz was crowned the Finals MVP, averaging 17.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, 4.3 assists, and three steals for the Finals. For the championship clincher, Cruz had 14 markers, six rebounds, and seven assists.
Senior Kevin Racal will end his collegiate college career with stats of 23 points, on 7/22 shooting from the field and 4/4 from the foul stripe; five boards, and two assists. Transferee Jom Sollano added 19 points, on 75% shooting from the field, and seven boards.
For the Red Lions, seniors Art dela Cruz, Baser Amer, and Ola Adeogun led this year’s runners-up. Dela Cruz led the team in almost tallying a triple-double. He had 15 points, 13 rebounds, and eight assists. Amer added 14 points, 13 coming in the fourth quarter and overtime, and dished out seven assists. Adeogun added 14 points and ten rebounds.
As a team, the Knights shot a tad better than their rivals, 43% from the field compared to 40% by the Red Lions. Despite being out-rebounded 55-36, Letran was able to force San Beda to 31 turnovers that led to 25 turnover points.
To open NCAA Season 92, the now-defending champions Letran Knights will face the hosts San Beda Red Lions on opening day.
CSJL 85 – Racal 23, Sollano 19, Cruz 14, Nambatac 13, Luib 5, Publico 4, Quinto 4, Calvo 2, Apreku 1, Balanza 0.
SBC (82) – Dela Cruz 15, Amer 14, Mocon 14, Adeogun 13, Sara 9, Tankoua 6, Koga 5, Tongco 4, Soberano 2, Cabanag 0, Reyes 0, Presbitero 0, Solera 0, Sedillo 0.
Quarterscores: 20-12, 40-39, 54-52, 75-75, 85-82.