SAN BEDA coach Boyet Fernandez ran the length of the court after the final buzzer like he was celebrating a championship.
Judging at the way the defending champion Lions won on opening day, the celebration was fitting and justified.
Art dela Cruz banked in a backdoor alley-oop play with 3.4 seconds remaining as San Beda survived St. Benilde, 71-70, last night to kickstart its quest for a fourth straight title before a roaring crowd at Mall of Asia Arena.
The Blazers gave the Lions all that they could handle in a wild finish with Pons Saavedra knocking in what many thought was the deciding three-pointer with 4.7 seconds left before Fernandez drew up the simple inbound play that set the stage for Dela Cruz’s heroics.
Later, Letran—tipped as one of the biggest threats to San Beda’s throne—leaned on the stellar play of Raymond Almazan on both ends as the Knights trounced the San Sebastian Stags, 74-69.
Almazan tallied 15 points, grabbed 20 boards and swatted away five shots for the Knights, who also unveiled a gem of a rookie in Rey Nambatac, whose 13-point output included three free throws down the stretch.
It wasn’t a vintage dominant performance by the Lions whose past seasons had been marked by opening-day routs.
“It was a lucky game for us because we were up by 15, we missed our free throws, we committed turnovers and we missed coverage, and we looked like we didn’t care in the fourth quarter,” said Fernandez.
SAN BEDA 71—Dela Cruz 16, Adeogun 11, Dela Rosa 10, Amer 9, Koga 8, D. Semerad 4, Mendoza 4, Abarcar 3, Pascual 2, A. Semerad 2, Ludovice 2.
ST. BENILDE 70—Romero 19, Taha 15, Ongteco 10, Saavedra 10, Bartolo 9, Argamino 3, Sinco 2, Carlos 0, Grey 0, Garcia 0, Jonson 0.
Quarters: 22-12, 38-28, 57-48, 71-70
LETRAN 74—Almazan 15, Nambatac 13, Cruz 12, Ruaya 11, Racal 7, Luib 6, Gabawan 6, Castro 2, Publico 2, Dysam 0.
SAN SEBASTIAN 69—Guinto 17, Ortuoste 16, Dela Cruz 9, Perez 9, Rebollos 7, De Vera 6, Gusi 3, Tano 2, Magno 0.
Quarters: 17-17, 36-35, 58-50, 74-69