MANILA, Philippines -- San Beda outgunned upset-conscious Arellano U in the stretch as it eked out an 82-75 victory Thursday to clinch the fist twice-to-beat advantage in the Final Four in the 88th NCAA basketball tournament at The Arena in San Juan City.
Tied at 75-all with less than three minutes to go, Baser Amer drained a triple to shatter the deadlock that ignited the telling run while the Lions tightened up the defensive screws and shot down the Chiefs the rest of the way.
The win assured the Lions, who remained atop the heap with a 13-2 (win-loss) record, of finishing in the top two and the important Final Four incentive that comes with it.
"We know they'll come at us strong, thankfully we made the shots and stops in the end to help save us the win," said San Beda coach Ronnie Magsanoc.
San Beda will thus finish in the top two for the seventh season in row and on course to barging into the finals for the same number of years. The Lions have gone home with the title in five of the last six years.
Jake Pascual paced the Lions with 16 points and 13 rebounds while Amer, Rome dela Rosa and Arthur dela Cruz scattered 13, 13 and 10 points, respectively, to help San Beda preserved the win.
The Lions needed a strong effort at the start of the fourth quarter to turn a 57-61 deficit at the end of the third quarter to a 72-66 lead.
But the Chiefs came charging back by unleashing a barrage of three-pointers including one by Levi Hernandez that knotted the count at 75-all with 2:46 minutes remaining.
It turned out to be Arellano U's last hurrah as Amer, Nigerian Ola Adeogun and pint-sized but big-hearted Anjo Caram conspired while San Beda's defense shut the door in the latter and help seal it.
The defeat sent the Chiefs crashing to 5-10 and out of the Final Four race.
The Lions also had to deal with the hot-shooting James Forrester, a Fil-Canadian rookie who erupted for a career-high 28 points he highlighted by sinking seven of the 10 three-point shots he took.
Riding on the strong, broad shoulders of Forrester, the Chiefs were hoping to avenge their painful 71-81 defeat at the hands of the Lions, who played with just six players, in their first round meeting last June 24.
Until Amer and the Lions' defense did something about.
First Game (srs)
San Beda (82) -- J. Pascual 16, Amer 13, Dela Rosa 13, Dela Cruz 10, Adeogun 8, K. Pascual 7, Koga 6, Villaruz 4, Ludovice 3, Caram 2, Lim 0.
Arellano U (75) -- Forrester 28, Hernandez 11, Bangga 10, Pinto 8, Acidre 8, Caperal 6, Salcedo 2, Zulueta 2, Lunas 0, Cadavis 0.
Quarterscores: 22-14, 46-39, 57-61, 82-75.