MANILA, Philippines – Kevin Alas fired a career-high 31 points to lead the Letran Knights in an 80-74 victory over the San Sebastian Stags in the first game of the 88th season of the NCAA Sunday at the Araneta Coliseum.
The Knights got a measure of revenge against the Stags, who eliminated them in last season’s semi-finals.
Alas, who came off the bench, caught fire in the second quarter when he scored seven straight points, all from acrobatic lay-ups. He was 8-of-16 from the field and 3-of-11 from behind the arc, and had five rebounds and two steals.
But Letran coach Louie Alas emphasized that it was his team’s defensive effort that keyed the victory.
“It’s not just Kevin. It was a team effort defensively,” he said.
The Knights took a 10 points lead, 39-29, at halftime and led by as much as 15, 46-31, early in the third quarter, but the Stags quickly climbed back in the game thanks to last season’s MVP Calvin Abueva.
Abueva, who missed all of his field goals in the first half, fired a three-pointer and assisted on a fastbreak lay-up to Ian Sangalang, all part of a 14-0 run that cut the lead to single digits.
Two free throws from Raymund Almazan and a three-pointer from Alas temporarily stemmed the tide, but Bobby Balucanag gave the Stags the lead at the end of the third period when he completed a three-point play to make it 53-50.
“I told them, it’s a 40-minute game. It’s normal in basketball for a team to get back from a deficit. You just have to show your poise,” Coach Alas said.
The teams exchanged leads in the early minutes of the fourth quarter, but the Knights took the lead for good when Balucanag committed an unsportsmanlike foul on Alas, who was shooting a three-pointer.
He made all three charities, sparking a 9-0 run that broke the game open.
The Stags did make a small run in the closing minutes, cutting the lead to four points off a lay-up by Jovit de la Cruz, but Mark Cruz was steady at the free throw line to ice the game for Letran.
Coach Alas pointed out that the Stags could have played much better.
“Ronald (Pascual) was in foul trouble, Calvin was in foul trouble. I’m not saying that if they played well, they would have won. But it would be a lot harder,” he said.
Pascual, who is coming off an ACL injury, missed all of his field goals and fouled out after 22 minutes of action. Abueva had a miserable shooting night, making only 2 of his 15 attempts, but finished with 18 points and 17 rebounds.
Sangalang had 24 points and 14 rebounds for the Stags, while Balucanag and dela Cruz both scored 11 points.