Letran reclaims NCAA title, dethrones San Beda
MANILA, Philippines—For Letran, the trip wasn’t always easy. On Tuesday night, the Knights arrived at their desired destination.
With two of their reliable guards stricken by cramps in the dying seconds, the Knights managed to slip past the San Beda Red Lions, 81-79, in a roller-coaster ending to capture the NCAA Season 95 men’s basketball title at Mall of Asia Arena.
Evan Nelle swished back-to-back threes in a span of 32 seconds that nearly saved the Lions from defeat, but his potential overtime-sending pull-up jumper with 5.4 seconds remaining got deflected by Jerrick Balanza, allowing the Knights to seal their 18th crown overall.
King Caralipio collared the rebound as the buzzer sounded and the entire Letran bench dashed to the middle of the court and jumped for joy amid the celebration witnessed by 19,876 fans divided by a sea of blue and red.
On his final year, Balanza gave everything he had and finished with 27 points capped by a three that created a six-point cushion and a decisive block on Nelle.
“People doubted that we cannot win in Game 3, but as the captain of this team I have to motivate ourselves to win,” said Balanza.
Graduating guard Edson Batiller, who also shone with 19 points, suffered from cramps after that Balanza triple and was carried to the bench. A few seconds later, Fran Yu also hurt his leg and was escorted out of the court.
If the game had gone into overtime, the Knights will have to survive without their prized backcourt operators. Yu went on to seize Finals MVP after averaging 13 points throughout the best-of-three series.
“It was difficult defeating San Beda, but nothing is impossible,” said Letran coach Bonnie Tan, who was named coach of the year.
The Knights tore down the Lions’ wall of invincibility in Game 1, lost in Game 2 but won the final show that prevented San Beda from annexing their championship run to four in a row.
For San Beda coach Boyet Fernandez, it was the first time he lost a championship with the Lions after three straight season titles and an 18-0 sweep in the eliminations.
LETRAN 81—Balanza 27, Batiller 19, Ular 9, Yu 8, Muyang 6, Mina 6, Caralipio 4, Ambohot 2, Balagasay 0, Olivario 0, Javillonar 0, Sangalang 0.
SAN BEDA 79—Tankoua 22, Oftana 18, Canlas 11, Nelle 11, Doliguez 11, Carino 3, Soberano 3, Bahio 0, Abuda 0, Visser 0.
Quarters: 26-24, 44-38, 69-59, 81-79