Right in front of a delirious San Beda College gallery, a pumped up King Lion Robert Bolick drove to the basket for a layup and repeatedly pointed both hands to the floor as if to say he owned the moment and the pressure that came with it.
This was Bolick at his finest—a cold-blooded assassin in crunch time and an emotional leader when his team needed one.
In the biggest game of the season, Bolick once again thrived under the bright lights, scoring nine of his team’s last 11 points as the Red Lions handed the Lyceum Pirates their first loss of the season with a 94-87 win in Game 1 of NCAA Season 93 finals at Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Bolick finished with 24 points, including nine straight points capped by a layup with 35 seconds remaining for a 91-82 advantage as the Lions completed a comeback from 12 points down in the third quarter to move within a win of a 10th title in 12 years.
“Honestly, I was really tired and was just looking for a way to get motivated so I looked at the San Beda crowd,” said Bolick, who was immediately whisked back to the bench by coach Boyet Fernandez with the ballgame yet to be finished.
True enough, the Pirates, making their first finals appearance, scored five straight points off turnovers, but the deficit proved too tough to overcome as they lost for the first time in 19 games this season.
For Fernandez, the win doesn’t change the fact that the Lions are still the underdogs in the series, which resumes with Game 2 on Thursday.
“I’ll stick to the statement that we are still the underdogs because we won only one game,” said Fernandez. “It’s not yet over. I just give credit to my players, we were down by more than 12 points and they never gave up. People said the heart of Lyceum is really big but the hearts of my players are big as well.”
The Lions rode Donald Tankoua’s brilliance in the early stages of the game and got timely hits from Davon Potts, before showing the championship composure that they’re known for.
Tankoua powered his way to 27 points and grabbed 20 rebounds, while Potts rediscovered his shooting touch with 15 points, including four triples.
Named the league’s Most Valuable Player before the game, Lyceum forward CJ Perez finished with 25 points and collected eight boards, but the Pirates had no answer for Bolick down the stretch.
A dunk by Mike Nzeusseu pulled the Pirates to within 82-83, before Bolick banked in a triple from the top of the key and hit three foul shots after he was fouled by JC Marcelino while attempting a triple.
“Lyceum is a really strong team,” said Bolick. “I find myself thinking about ways to beat them. I’m just happy I got this chance to make up for my errors in the last two losses against Lyceum.”
Earlier, La Salle Green Hills also moved within a whisker of the juniors title after holding off Mapua, 74-68.