Knights to remember: Letran nips San Beda, rules NCAA
A decade of heartbreak and disappointment ended in glorious fashion for the brave and valiant Knights of Letran in front of—quite fittingly—the biggest, most spirited crowd of NCAA Season 91.
The Knights completed a dream season by dethroning the San Beda Red Lions with a tough and tenacious stand down the stretch for a pulsating 85-82 overtime victory in the winner-take-all Game 3 Thursday night at a jampacked Mall of Asia Arena.
“Tama na ’yung sakit, tayo naman (Enough of the heartbreak, it’s our turn),” said a jubilant Letran coach Aldin Ayo, who shed tears of joy as he addressed a delirious Letran crowd after the Knights clinched their 17th overall crown—but their first since 2005.
A crowd of 20,158 that included boxing champion Manny Pacquiao, who sat at the Letran bench, again endured a roller coaster of emotions as momentum swung back and forth in an epic final period and an overtime session where both teams refused to budge.
In the end, it was the blue side of the arena that celebrated a historic victory that also snapped San Beda’s five-year reign in the league.
With their steely resolve and tremendous work rate, the Knights cut to size a San Beda frontline anchored by 6-foot-8 Nigerian Ola Adeogun, whose imposing frame shadowed the league in the last few seasons that the Lions dominated.
Priding themselves as a team that parades a lineup without a foreign reinforcement, the Knights overcame a San Beda team that refused to wilt until the final minute of overtime when Jom Sollano made critical baskets for a slim cushion that Letran held until the final buzzer.
The Knights’ emotional leader, Mark Cruz, stood tallest despite his 5-foot-6 frame. He finished with 14 points in the series clincher highlighted by a free throw with 3.2 seconds remaining in overtime and a triple with 1:53 left in regulation that gave the Knights a 75-67 cushion.
Cruz was later named Most Valuable Player of the finals, but he could have easily shared it with teammate Kevin Racal, who turned the final period into another showcase of his terrific outside sniping.
Racal buried three treys in the final period to finish with a game-high 23 points as the Knights gained some separation from the Lions after a tight first three quarters.
Fought with heart
But just when it looked like the Knights were headed for a celebration, the Lions fought back with an 8-0 burst anchored on Baser Amer to force the overtime session.
“Laban lang and magpakita ng puso (We just fought and showed heart). That was our battle cry the whole season,” said Cruz, who was part of the two previous Letran teams that lost to San Beda in the finals in two of the last three seasons.
Three-point shooting was again key for the Knights, who buried nine in the deciding game, but they also continued to bottle up the Lions, throwing them off their stride in the most important game of the season. San Beda committed 31 turnovers, totaling 92 for the three-game series.
Sollano also picked up 19 points with his biggest shot coming at the baseline over Adeogun with 32.3 seconds left in overtime for an 84-82 advantage.
The Knights rushed to the floor in celebration as Michel Sorela’s desperation heave from half court bounced off the rim at the buzzer.
“This (championship) is for the Letran community,” said Ayo.
Pacquiao, Letran’s team manager, said each player will receive a bonus of P100,000.
In juniors play, San Beda extended its dominance into a seventh year as the Red Cubs overwhelmed the Arellano Braves, 70-61.
SAN BEDA 70—Mahinay 15, Nelle 13, Velasquez 12, Etrata 8, Bordeus 8, Abu Hijle 6, Tagala 4, Nayve 2, Dela Rosa 2, Barbero 0.
ARELLANO 61—Dela Torre 15, Sunga 13, Tamayo 12, Abadeza 9, Fornis 5, Danas 3, Espiritu 2, Bataller 2, Velasco 0, Calapine 0.
Quarters: 14-17, 30-32, 52-49, 70-61
LETRAN 85—Racal 23, Sollano 19, Cruz 14, Nambatac 13, Luib 5, Publico 4, Quinto 4, Calvo 2, Apreku 1, Balanza 0.
SAN BEDA 82—Dela Cruz 15, Amer 14, Mocon 14, Adeogun 13, Sara 9, Tankoua 6, Koga 5, Tongco 4, Soberano 2, Cabanag 0, Reyes 0, Sorela 0, Presbitero 0, Sedillo 0.
Quarters: 20-12, 40-39, 54-52, 75-75 (reg), 85-82
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.