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Ragtag Letran sinks upset-seeking Lyceum to remain unblemished

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The Colegio de San Juan de Letran (CSJL) Knights pushed their streak to seven games in escaping a tough game against their Intramuros neighbors, the Lyceum of the Philippines University (LPU) Pirates, 83-78 early Tuesday evening at the FilOil Flying V Arena in San Juan City.

The Knights opened the game with a huge surge. It was their stingy defense that led to the early game lead. Slowly, the Topex Robinson-mentored squad switched their defense on the fly with the team pressing in the full court and then moving to a zone in the half court that forced the league-leaders into turnovers. To make matters worse for Letran, Mark Cruz, with 15.2 remaining in the first quarter, tried to steal the ball from Allyn Malabanan but caught an elbow to the bridge of the nose. Blood gushed out of the nose of Cruz and was brought to the back.

On offense, Cameroonian student-athlete Victor Nguidjol powered the Pirates in the paint. Nguidjol, together with Richmon Sunga, led a huge 22-6 rally that gave Lyceum a 26-22 lead midway through the second quarter. Free throws by Joe Lacastesantos helped give his team a 32-28 lead at the 2:58 mark. Smart Elite ambassador Rey Nambatac and reigning player of the week Kevin Racal paced the Knights but free throws by Nguidjol and Sunga gave the Pirates a solitary point lead to enter halftime.

Kevin Racal opened the third quarter with five straight points but were answered right back by Nguidjol. The two teams went back-and-forth afterwards with the Pirates scoring the majority of their points from the charity stripe while Racal, Nambatac, and Kier Quinto pushed the Knights. In addition, for the Knights, star guard Mark Cruz returned to the game at the 5:15. At the 4:41 mark of the quarter, however, Lyceum anchor Joseph Gabayni was called for a disqualifying foul after a Gabayni elbow was swung towards the throat of Nambatac. The two teams continued to duke it out until the end of the quarter when Mark Cruz, stole the ball from a loose ball, luckily found an open Jerrick Balanza for a layup just to beat the buzzer. Letran held a two-point lead, 57-55 going into the final quarter of regulation.

The Knights were able gain a comfortable cushion after back-to-back baskets by Jomari Sollano and a three-point play by Cruz gave Letran a 71-65 lead with 6:28 to go. In a bizarre call by the officials at the 5:39 mark, a supposed foul by Quinto on Nguidjol was given to McJour Luib that resulted to the fifth foul for the guard. Letran head coach Aldin Ayo threw a chair to the hallway in disgust of the call that resulted to a technical. The move inspired the Knights as they went on a 10-3 rally, highlighted by an in-line three point banker by Kier Quinto, that gave the Knights a 79-69 lead over their Intramuros neighbors. Missed free throws by Nambatac and clutch baskets by Nguidjol and Sunga cut the lead to just four 82-78 with 18.1 to go. Unfortunately for the Pirates, Quinto was able to steal the ball from a careless Nguidjol that sealed the win for the Knights 83-78.

This was the most uncomfortable game we have had,” said coach Aldin Ayo after the game. “We had a hard time in adjusting to our lineup in the game and nasira rotation ko,” Ayo said as Luib was fouled out and Cruz was at the back for the majority of the game. But for him, it only gets tougher and tougher as the season goes through.

The Knights were led by Racal, who played the entire third quarter, and Nambatac with 19 points apiece. Nambatac added five rebounds, four assists, and three steals while Racal was able to grab seven boards and swat away three shots. For Lyceum, Nguidjol was able to notch another double-double with 22 points and 12 rebounds.

The Letran Knights (7-0) will look to continue to extend their streak against Emilio Aguinaldo College Generals (1-5) on Friday, August 7 at 2:00pm while the Lyceum Pirates (1-6) face the San Sebastian Stags (1-6) on the same day at 12:00nn.

The Scores:
CSJL (83) – Nambatac 19, Racal 19, Sollano 11, Quinto 9, Calvo 7, Luib 6, Cruz 5, Balanza 3, Balagasay 2, Publico 2, Apreku 0, Bernabe 0.
LPU (78) – Nguidjol 22, Ayaay 14, Sunga 11, Gabayni 9, Baltazar 6, Bulawan 4, Alanes 3, Mbida 3, Soliman 2, Lacastesantos 2, Lugo 2, Malabanan 0, Taladua 0.
Quarterscores: 19-12, 34-35, 57-55, 83-78.

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