In its first Finals appearance in four years, Letran made sure to make it memorable.
The Knights from Muralla Street ended the 32-game winning streak of San Beda with a 65-64 squeaker to move on the cusp of bagging the NCAA Season 95 Seniors Basketball Championship, Tuesday at the SM Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.
“One game pa lang naman, pero we are happy with this one. Eighteen-zero sila so it took hard work to beat that kind of team,” said Letran head coach Bonnie Tan.
The last time the Red Lions tasted defeat was back in August 21, 2018 — a 66-73 loss to Lyceum.
This one, though, will be a hard pill to swallow.
With San Beda up by four, 60-56, with 4:45 left, Fran Yu stopped Letran’s bleeding with a booming triple from the top of the arc that turned the tides of the game.
Jerrick Balanza followed it up with another triple seconds later for the go-ahead bucket.
Yu had 10 points, six assists, three steals, and three rebounds. Balanza added 10 markers as well, built on two treys.
“Winning the Most Improved Player is nakakadagdag sa confidence niya. He wanted to prove something to the community,” Tan said about Yu.
From there, the Knights relied on their defense to lock the win.
Though Evan Nelle was able to cut the lead down to one with 37.5 ticks left and were forced to a turnover 25.3 seconds later, Calvin Oftana was not able to convert. The Red Lions were then unable to grab a rebound off of two misses from the stripe by Yu, ending their streak.
Bonbon Batiller had 12 points to lead Letran, while Jeo Ambohot broke out of his slump with nine points.
“Hindi pa rin tapos. Although we have the momentum, sana hindi na ito pakawalan ng players ko. Sila naman naglalaro at kung gusto nila, kunin nila. We are just here to motivate and guide them,” said Tan, as they are trying to win Letran’s 18th crown.
San Beda, the top three-point shooting team in the league, was held down to just 6-of-40 from deep.
Evan Nelle led San Beda with a game-high 20 points. However, the leading assist man in the league only had one dime this game.
James Canlas and Oftana had 10 markers each but shot a combined 10-of-30 from the field. Donald Tankoua went just 3-of-10 for seven points but still managed to haul down 13 boards — only four from the defensive end.
Game Two will take place on Friday at the same venue.
CSJL 65 — Batiller 12, Balanza 10, Yu 10, Ambohot 9, Muyang 7, Reyson 7, Mina 3, Ular 3, Caralipio 2, Sangalang 2, Balagasay 0, Olivario 0.
SBU 64 — Nelle 20, Canlas 11, Oftana 11, Tankoua 7, Soberano 6, Bahio 4, Doliguez 3, Etrata 2, Abuda 0, Cuntapay 0, Alfaro 0.
Quarterscores: 17-18, 28-32, 47-44, 65-64.