Letran nips San Beda to go 1-0 in NCAA Finals
Letran survived rival San Beda, 94-90, to draw first blood in the NCAA Season 91 men’s basketball Finals Friday at Mall of Asia Arena.
In a match where no side would give an inch, the Knights pulled through in clutch with Kevin Racal coming up with big plays and Mark Cruz nailing clutch free throws in the last 24 seconds.
Both teams combined for 10 triples in the fourth quarter alone, the last being Roldan Sara’s with 10 seconds left that pulled the Red Lions within a basket, 90-92.
Racal finished with 28 points including a crucial four-point stretch that gave the Knights the lead for good, 89-85 with 40.3 seconds remaining. He also had five rebounds, five assists and two steals.
Rey Nambatac had 18 points including the final basket off a baseline drive, Mark Cruz had 17 points on 4-of-7 shooting from threes while McJour Luib, who kept Letran alive early in the game, added 11.
“Mark and I told my teammates that this was our last year, so we hope they could help us play the right way. So that’s what we did, we just helped each other to get the win,” said Racal.
After a blistering start where they led by as many as 10, 18-8, the Knights never got a breather as the Red Lions stormed back and kept in step with them the rest of the way.
“We expected this kind of game. It was really a dog fight,” said Letran coach Aldin Ayo.
In a spell-binding display of talent midway the payoff period, the Knights and the Red Lions traded five triples in a one and half minute stretch which had everyone at the MOA Arena on its feet.
San Beda, which is looking to capture its sixth straight title, had the lead at the end of third when Nigerian center Ola Adeogun came alive after a quiet first half.
But Racal opened up the payoff period with a fast break and the Knights never trailed from there but never got a lead bigger than five points.
It was the first time in recent history that the Knights had defeated the Red Lions in game one of a finals series.
Adeogun had 23 points, Sara and Ryusei Koga each pitched in 10 point to fuel the Red Lions while key guys Baser Amer and Art Dela Cruz only had 15 points combined.
Game two is on Tuesday at the same venue with Letran having a chance to end its 10-year title drought.
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