Kevin Racal wanted to win this one so bad.
The Colegio de San Juan de Letran Knight senior played the game of his life on both ends of the court to lead the Knights in Game One of the NCAA Seniors Basketball Finals in a 94-90 nailbiter against the defending champions, San Beda College Red Lions, Friday evening at the SM Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.
In the early-goings of the game, Letran junior McJour Luib was aggressive on the offensive end in driving strong to the hole. Luib had already tallied six points and two dimes halfway through the opening quarter. Moreover, that aggressiveness led to an 18-8 lead, the biggest in the game, with 3:22 to go. With the San Beda starters starting slow, coach Jamike Jarin’s shock troopers, led by Dan Sara and Donald Tankoua, provided the punch needed by the defending champions. Slowly, the second unit were able to spark a 13-1 run capped by a Joe Presbitero putback that gave San Beda a 21-20 lead. However, it was shortlived as Christian Balagasay closed the quarter with free throws that gave Letran a 22-21 lead.
Both squads hardened their defensive stance in the second quarter as the two teams struggled to put up points. Letran was able to gain a 31-26 lead with the struggles Beda was experiencing. When the starters returned to the floor, senior Ryusei Koga gave life to the stagnant Beda offense. Then back-to-back triples by Tarlac-native AC Soberano and a layup by Adeogun gave San Beda a 41-37 lead. However, a long jumper by Luib cut the lead to just two to enter halftime 41-39.
Kevin Racal came out of the locker room on fire as he exploded for ten points in the third quarter. Racal’s run was highlighted by an eye in the sky play with a pass from Jom Sollano to Racal that gave Letran a 58-52 lead with 4:55 to go. The Knights completely outhustled the champions during that span even on the boards. The Letran momentum was halted when Bong Quinto was called for an unsportsmanlike foul on Dan Sara. After a split by Sara on the stripe, Adeogun lived on the line as he scored four straight free throws to cut the lead to just a solitary point. A Racal triple was quickly answered by a Tongco bomb. Two more free throws by Adeogun capped the Beda third quarter run gave San Beda a 62-61 lead to enter the final frame.
The Letran troika of Racal, Cruz, and Nambatac blasted a 7-2 blast to start the quarter. After that run, the two teams then went on a classic shootout that saw triples by Racal, Nambatac, and Luib gunslinging for Letran while outside sniping by Soberano and Amer kept the Red Lions close. During that frame, eight total triples were unleashed by both squads in the first 5:36 of the final quarter. A Koga steal on Nambatac with 4:24 that led to a layup cut the lead to just one, 83-82, to the roar of the San Beda faithful. Ola Adeogun was then able to tie the game at 85-all after an Amer find.
Knowing the importance of this game, Racal became the steady presence for the Knights as his precision on the foul stripe led to an 89-85 Letran lead with 40.3 ticks to go. After two more free throws by Adeogun and a split at the stripe by Cruz, Adeogun grabbed the rebound and coasted through the halfcourt. However, Adeogun was trapped that led to a Racal steal. Free throws by Racal and a defensive lapse by Beda that led to a Nambatac layup sealed the game, 94-90, for the Knights.
“Sabi nga namin ni Mark (Cruz), last year na namin ito,” Racal said after the game. “Kelangan kaming tulungan ng mga teammates namin at yung isa’t isa.”
Coach Aldin Ayo added that the team expected this kind of game from San Beda. “We expected this type of game. We just have to tough it out,” he disclosed. “This was a classic kind of game. The shootout was good for the audience and we’ve been doing this for the entire season,” he added.
For Cruz, he still continues to preach that they need to follow system. “We focused on defense. Just stick to the gameplan at darating din opensa namin galing sa depensa.”
Racal had a game-high 28 points on an excellent 50% clip while also adding five boards, five assists, and two steals. Fellow senior Mark Cruz added 17 markers, including four triples. Cagayan de Oro-natives Rey Nambatac and McJour Luib combined for 34 points.
For the Red Lions, Ola Adeogun towered over the Letran frontline with 23 points and 16 boards. He was 7/9 from the field and perfect from the foul stripe. The backcourt tandem of Dan Sara and Ryusei Koga both had ten markers each.
The Knights shot 45% from the field while the Red Lions were just 41%. Even in getting outrebounded 50-37, the Knights forced their rivals to 29 turnovers that led to 25 turnover points.
The Letran Knights will look to close out the series on Tuesday, October 27 at 4:00pm. Game two will still be played at the SM Mall of Asia Arena.
CSJL (94) – Recal 28, Nambatac 18, Cruz 17, Luib 16, Sollano 9, Quinto 4, Balagasay 2, Apreku 0, Balanza 0, Calvo 0.
SBC (90) – Adeogun 23, Koga 10, Sara 10, Soberano 9, Amer 8, Tankoua 8, Dela Cruz 7, Tongco 5, Mocon 4, Solera 4, Prebitero 2, Cabanag 0, Reyes 0, Bonsubre 0, Sedillo 0.
Quarterscores: 22-21, 39-41, 61-62, 94-90.
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