MANILA, Philippines — Letran finally figured out how to defeat San Beda — and it came at the most opportune time.
The Knights conquered the defending champion Red Lions, 64-55, Saturday night for the first time in five years to forge a winner-take-all game three in the 88th NCAA men’s basketball finals.
Jonathan Belorio unleashed a trey from his sweet spot, allowing Letran to build a 60-52 cushion, which was enough to survive thee final three minutes.
Belorio was perfect from beyond the arch and finished with 15 points while four more Knights ended up with double-digit output.
“It’s all about teammwork, you can’t beat San Beda with just one to two players,” said head coach Louie Alas, who’s back in the sudden death after seven years.
The last time the Knights won over their fierce rivals was in the first round of 2007, and the last setback of the Red Lions in a finals series was in 2009.
Mark Cruz hit a big trey in the fourth quarter, and Kevin Alas — who just couldn’t get his rhythm going as a marked man — made a pivotal run on back-to-back and-ones.
Carlo Lituania also gave the Knights a big lift with 11 markers, most of it coming from the first half that allowed the Knights to take control early.
Letran, though, owes the victory to its defensive scheme on San Beda’s behemoth Ola Adeogun in the payoff period.
After scoring at will in the paint in the third, Adeogun could barely get to the rim let alone touch the ball, which paved way Letran to take over anew.
“We played his tendencies in the fourth quarter,” said Alas. “In the third, he was able to score where he wanted to.”
Letran fired blanks in the third and managed only four points, leaving the door ajar for San Beda to take the lead at the turn of the third quarter, 43-41.
Adeogun accounted for eight straight points in the third before Baser Amer nailed two freethrows, which put the Red Lions in the lead.
But the Red Lions, gunning for a second ‘three-peat,’ lost its offense in the payoff period though Amer tried to rally his squad back in the game.
Game three is on Thursday with the venue and time to be announced.