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NCAA 97: Abando outduels Benson as Letran fends off Benilde to open title defense

Rhenz Abando and defending champion Colegio de San Juan de Letran denied College of Saint Benilde an opening day upset, taking 67-63 win in the NCAA Season 97 Seniors Basketball tournament, Saturday at La Salle Green Hills’ St. Benilde Gym in Mandaluyong City.

It was a duel between league rookies Abando and Benilde’s AJ Benson.

The former University of Santo Tomas standout Abando sizzled in his debut, tallying 19 points, eight rebounds, three assists, and four blocks. Benson — a transferee from Merritt College, meanwhile, got 16 points and eight rebounds.

But it was Abando who got the last laugh.

Abando gave the reigning champions the lead with a booming three, 60-58, before stopping a crucial shot from Mark Sangco with exactly two minutes left in the game. AJ Benson had a chance to tie the game for the Blazers, but missed on three free throws.

Pao Javillonar and Mark Sangalang pulled through with back-to-back baskets to put up the finishing touches while JC could not put up a shot in the dying seconds of the game.

“Ayaw lang magpatalo ng mga bata,” Letran head coach Bonnie Tan said. “And luckily nag-step up mga veterans ko — Fran Yu, Rhenz Abando, at yung mga big men. Nag-step sila nung kinakailangan. It was tough. We were blindfolded going into the game. Mahirap talaga.”

NCAA Season 95 Finals MVP Yu, on his part, poured in all his 12 markers in the second half. The Tondo-native also grabbed eight rebounds and two steals to atone for his six turnovers.

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Javillonar and Sangalang were also monsters on the boards, grabbing 10 and 13 rebounds respectively. Both had seven points each.

The Blazers took the early lead that ballooned to 11 points with Carlo Lim going off a seven-point tear. AJ Benson then capped it off with a booming triple with 5:55 minutes left in the first half.

The lead continued for the season host before the Knights forced the game’s only deadlock at 41, 5:02 left in the third period to set up the thrilling finish.

Carlo Lim complemented Benson with 10 points. In his CSB debut, Will Gozum was limited to just eight points on 4-of-11 shooting with four rebounds.

Letran will face Arellano next on Wednesday at 12:00 nn. while Benilde looks to bounce back on Tuesday against Lyceum at 3:00 p.m.

The Scores:

Letran 67 — Abando 19, Yu 12, Caralipio 8, Sangalang 7, Javillonar 7, Paraiso 4, Fajarito 4, Mina 3, Olivario 2, Ambohot 1, Reyson 0, Guarino 0.

Benilde 63 –– Benson 16, Lim 10, Gozum 8, Nayve 6, Cullar 6, Corteza 4, Davis 2, Lepalam 2, Marcos 2, Sangco 0, Flores 0, Mosqueda 0.

Quarterscores: 10-16, 30-33, 49-55, 67-63.

Grew to appreciate various sports from tennis to judo. True-maroon kiddo since the new millennium. Fanboy. Singer. Occasional sports writer.

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