Gritty Knights end Lions’ long winning run, close in on crown

November 12, 2019
Larry Muyang of Letran  & Donald Tankoua
Larry Muyang of Letran and Donald Tankoua of San Beda jockey for position under the basket. (Dennis Abrina, PJ)

FRAN Yu continued his stellar play in the post-season as Letran stunned mighty San Beda, 65-64, to move on the cusp of ending its bitter rivals’ three-year reign in the NCAA men’s basketball championship at the Mall of Asia Arena yesterday.

In the Finals opener where no team led by more than six points, the Knights ground it out to halt the Red Lions’ 32-game winning streak dating back in August last year.

It was also San Beda’s first loss of the tournament, after jumping straight to the title round via an 18-0 elimination round sweep.

In a possible reprise of its improbable 2015 championship run, Letran goes for its 18th crown in Game 2 slated at 4 p.m. on Friday at the same Pasay venue.

After the Knights were called for a 24-second shotclock violation, the Lions tried to steal the win and preserve their perfect run in the final 12.2 seconds but soon-to-be crowned MVP Calvin Oftana missed a triple.

Yu was in the right place at the right time, collaring the rebound and was fouled by Cameroonian center Donald Tankoua in the last 2.4 seconds.

Although Yu missed both free throws - the second one intentionally as San Beda still has one timeout remaining -  Letran was able to grab the possession courtesy of King Caralipio to seal the deal.

The Knights’ Cinderella story continued.

Letran eliminated San Sebastian and Lyceum of the Philippines University in the step-ladder playoffs that put the Muralla-based school back in the Finals.

Yu, who finished with 10 points, six assists, three rebounds and three rebounds, was instrumental in the Knights’ remarkable late-season run.

“Being the league’s Most Improved Player eh nakaka-add up sa kanyang confidence. He wants to prove something to the Letran community,” said coach Bonnie Tan on Yu.

The Knights went aggressive on the boards in the last two periods.

“We were outrebounded in the first half, yun ang na-access namin during the halftime kasi we were trying to get transition points. Sinasabi ko sa mga players na if we cannot get those rebounds, we cannot plan,” said Tan.

“Nag-adjust kami sa second half. That’s the time na nakakatakbo na kami na gusto naming takbuhin on offense,” he added.

Closing out will be the most difficult task that Letran will do come Friday. 

“Game 1 pa lang naman but we are happy for the team,” said Tan. “Although we have the momentum, sana hindi na pakawalan ito ng mga bata. Sila naman ang naglalaro. We are just here to guide them and motivate them.”

The Knights’ defense held the Lions to 16 points below their 80.7 average in the elimination round.

San Beda guard Evan Nelle scored a game-high 20 points but could only dish out one assist. 

In the juniors division, San Beda beat first-time finalist LPU, 94-80, to move on the verge of claiming a record 24th title.  

The scores:

First Game

Letran (65) — Batiller 12, Balanza 10, Yu 10, Ambohot 9, Muyang 7, Reyson 7, Mina 3, Ular 3, Caralipio 2, Sangalang 2, Balagasay 0, Olivario 0.

San Beda (64) — Nelle 20, Canlas 11, Oftana 11, Tankoua 7, Soberano 6, Bahio 4, Doliguez 3, Etrata 2, Abuda 0, Cuntapay 0, Alfaro 0.

Quarterscores: 17-18, 28-32, 47-44, 65-64.