Showcasing an impressive defensive-themed outing for 40 minutes, the Letran Knights started their Season 91 campaign with a win as they dismantled the College of St. Benilde, 82-53 to notch their first victory held at the Filoil Arena in San Juan City, Tuesday afternoon.
The two teams had a slow start as the first game jitters seemed to kick in and they combined for four points in the game’s first three minutes. After two more hits from the teams, Letran called for an early ceasefire that triggered their first quarter run. Despite only hitting only two out of their first nine attempts, three straight triples with two coming from Kier Quintao and Mark Cruz, gave Letran a 15-8 lead under four minutes to play in the first.
The rally extended as the Knights built a double-digit lead at the last moments of the opening frame. Good press defense by Letran limited scoring execution by the Blazers as Benilde only scored an inefficient 10 points, while they trail by ten after 10 minutes of play. Felix Aprico capped a fast 6-2 scoring spurt to extend Letran’s lead to 14 as the Knights’ ball movement enabled them to pierce through the Blazers’ defense.
For a brief moment, the lead was sliced to nine points with back-to-back baskets from Ralph Nayve. However, a timeout enabled the Knights once again to build a 9-2 counter with less than four minutes of the first half. Primarily using their defense, Letran cruised to a comfortable cushion against a sloppy Benilde team, which seemed rattled and every basket converted had to be earned hard. The Knights eventually ended the second quarter up by a baker’s dozen.
Similar to the first half, the second half started out on a defensive-themed atmosphere. The game also slowed down with all the fouls being accumulated. Benilde entered the penalty situation with 6 ½ minutes to go in the third and two Rey Nambatac free throws extended the lead to 46-27. On the other hand, scoring was still a struggle for the Green-and-White squad as they surpassed the 30-point mark 25 minutes into the game.
As the game developed into its physical state, a frustrated Benilde squad even muffed its free throws while the suffocating Letran defense continued. A tough left handed bank shot by Jonathan Grey at the third quarter buzzer sliced down two more from a mammoth lead built by Letran. With the second unit parading the floor for both teams, letran continued its surge as their lead even grew to 25 with a Mark Cruz three-pointer that thwarted comeback hopes by Benilde. With necessary stops to finish the game, the Knights completed the blow out as the last minutes of the fourth were played to be garbage time and the final score was the only thing needed to be settled.
In the postgame, Coach Aldin Ayo, making his NCAA debut, was proud of the defense displayed by his squad. “We want it that hard way,” he quipped. “Before the game gusto ko mapagod kayo, I told them.” Moreover, he added that he does not want to play conventional basketball. “Gusto ko magulo! Yung di nakaka-set sa offense, ‘yung hindi conventional basketball.”
Mark Cruz led all scorers with 16 points on 6/11 shooting with three assists and four steals. Kier Quinto added 14 points. For the Blazers, Jonathan Grey top scored with 16 points and six rebounds but committed four turnovers and was just 5/14 from the field.
Letran shot 44% from the field compared to the dismal 36% of CSB. However, the most glaring difference was the turnovers committed by both squads. The Knights committed 20 turnovers but the Blazers committed 33 turnovers.
St. Benilde’s next game will be up against Perpetual while Letran faces JRU in its next assignment. Both games will be played at 2pm and 4pm respectively on Friday, July 3 at the FilOil Arena.
CSJL (82) – Cruz 16, Quinto 14, Nambatac 11, Sollano 10, Balanza 7 Racal 6, Balagasay 5, Calvo 5, Apreku 4, Dela Pena 4, Luib 0
CSB (53) – Grey 16, Domingo 10, Ongteco 8, Saavedra 7, Nayve 5, Jonson 4, Sta. Maria 2, Deles 1, Castor 0, Fajarito 0
Quarters: 20-10, 37-24, 58-37, 82-53