Maybe next time
If its first game was any indication how challenging their title defense will be in NCAA Season 94, then the San Beda Red Lions are in for a tougher grind than previous seasons.
The Red Lions, seeking their 11th crown in 13 seasons, found the retooled Perpetual Help Altas a tough nut to crack before escaping with a thrilling 67-65 victory on Saturday in their season opener at Mall of Asia Arena.
Robert Bolick finished with 15 points and came up with the biggest defensive play of the game in the dying seconds when he stole a pass from Edgar Charcos, allowing San Beda to kick-start its title defense on a positive note.
Last year’s two finalists actually prevailed on opening day with Lyceum overcoming a hard fighting San Sebastian, 85-80.
Mike Nzeusseu scattered 23 points and grabbed 20 rebounds while CJ Perez contributed 15 points for the Pirates, who struggled to put away a San Sebastian team that lost top gunner RK Ilagan to fouls midway in the fourth period. Nzeusseu and Spencer Pretta combined for five straight points to give the Pirates enough cushion in the final minute.
“We will continue learning and improving as the season progresses,” Lyceum coach Topex Robinson said.
Javee Mocon dished out a double double of 14 points and 10 boards while Donald Tankoua chipped in 12 points and 12 rebounds for the Lions, who were dragged into a tight contest all throughout by a Perpetual Help squad that looked rejuvenated under ex-San Beda coach Frankie Lim.
Mocon’s back-to-back baskets inside the final two minutes kept the Altas at bay, although the Lions still had to fend them off down the stretch.
“Playing against coach Frankie (Lim), it will be a tough one and you know what they did today,” coach Boyet Fernandez said. “But credit to the boys, they never gave up. It was really a close game, the boys never gave up, we made stops in the end. Our defense was there.”
Once again, it was Bolick who bailed out the Lions after Joe Presbitero muffed the chance to seal the victory earlier when he missed two foul shots. Despite his bad shooting night, Bolick came through when it mattered, hitting seven free throws inside the final four minutes.
“He will always be our go-to guy for every game,” Fernandez said. “Robert did a good job for us.”
The Altas came into the game with little expectations after a revamped roster and coaching staff.
But Charcos, a transferee from University of the East, proved to be a gem with 14 points, seven assists and two steals as the Altas gave the Lions all that they could handle.
“They have to admit that they got a bit nervous against us,” Lim said, referring to the Lions. “I’m just proud of the way my players fought.”
The oldest collegiate league in the country opened its 94th season in smashing style, with host Perpetual leaving no stone unturned in welcoming all competing schools and their fans.
Perpetual Help president Antonio Tamayo officially opened the season.
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.