Every game is a learning experience for the San Beda Red Lions.
Against the Jose Rizal Heavy Bombers on Thursday, it was all about pouring it all on the defensive end that propelled the Lions to stretch their unbeaten streak to 12 games in the NCAA Season 95 men’s basketball tournament.
“It was basically defense first before our offense kicked in; that was the lesson that we learned today,” said San Beda coach Boyet Fernandez after the Lions carved out a come-from-behind 65-47 triumph opposite a young and unyielding JRU side.
Trailing at the half, the Lions used a succession of stops to rev up their offense and pull away from the Heavy Bombers to continue putting a lock on the top spot.
Second half San Beda looked far from the first half squad that took the court.
The defending champion Lions were not in their element early on, allowing the Heavy Bombers to seize control and entertain thoughts of pulling off a stunning upset.
MVP contender Calvin Oftana spearheaded the comeback path for the Lions, who surprisingly trailed at the start of the latter half.
When Oftana and teammate Donald Tankoua, who is running fourth in the MVP race, muscled their way inside and the backcourt duo of James Canlas and Evan Nelle began clicking, suddenly the Lions found themselves invincible on both ends.
“We really have to be consistent from start to finish,” Fernandez said.
Oftana scored 10 of his 12 points in a third-quarter tear that put the Lions back on the driver’s seat while Canlas, who finished with 18 points, put on the finishing touches together with the hot-shooting Nelle.
Agem Miranda, JRU’s athletic forward, created headaches for the Lions, scoring all of his 14 points in the first two quarters before he was silenced by San Beda’s defensive blanket along the way. The Heavy Bombers fell to their eighth defeat in 12 matches.
The Lions, looking for a third straight NCAA crown, are aiming for a sweep of the elimination round with six games left in their schedule.
“We are going into a hell week as we play tough teams ahead. I can see that there is still more room for improvement,” said Fernandez, whose Lions face the San Sebastian Stags, Letran Knights and St. Benilde Blazers—all Final Four hopefuls—in succeeding games.
Cat-quick guard Kent Salado played a stellar role during the Arellano Chiefs’ narrow 91-86 victory over the Perpetual Altas in the other game.
Salado kept luring the defense to him with relentless drives in the closing minutes and then fed his teammates with nifty passes on numerous occasions that keyed just their third win in 12 games.
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