MANILA, Philippines – San Beda College center Donald Tankoua played like a man possessed in Game 1 of the Red Lions' NCAA Finals series against the Lyceum of the Philippines University last Friday at the Araneta Coliseum.
Against a team that they have yet to beat in Season 93, Tankoua kept the Red Lions afloat in the first three quarters before Robert Bolick took over in the payoff period.
The Cameroonian big man finished with 27 points, 20 rebounds, and two assists, while helping limit Lyceum's Mike Nzeusseu to only 14 points, in what turned out to be a 94-87 win for the defending champions.
"I just went there and played my heart out to win the game, with my teammates," said Tankoua, who had nine offensive rebounds that helped the Red Lions score 15 second chance points. "What we did in practice, we just did it."
"It was hard in the start, but we just got back in the game," he added. "We just did what we always do – play together, that's it."
Tankoua's zeal was understandable. He did not play in San Beda's triumph in the NCAA Season 92 finals against Arellano University, as his season was ended by an ACL injury at the start of the second round.
"I really wanted to win," he said. "I did all my best, because I missed last year."
At first, he was admittedly pressured by the huge crowd at the Big Dome – a far cry from the audience they usually play in front of at the FilOil Flying V Centre, the smaller venue in San Juan.
When he settled down, however, he was simply unstoppable.
"I just played, that's all," said Tankoua, after helping his squad take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three Finals series.
San Beda coach Boyet Fernandez believes that Tankoua's performance in Game 1 was proof that their center is finally rounding into form after spending most of the elimination round playing his way into game shape.
"I really appreciate Donald," Fernandez said. "Even though he started slow, kasi he's coming off an injury, but we kept getting him in shape."
"Siguro, na-tiyempo lang na time na ng conditioning ni Donald, na on time talaga pagdating sa Finals," he added.
Fernandez noted that Tankoua's effort against Lyceum in Game 1 was no fluke: he had also torched the Pirates for 34 points and 13 rebounds during their second round encounter last October 19, though it came in a 107-105 double overtime loss.
He is hopeful that Tankoua can continue his strong performances, especially with the Red Lions gunning for the title on Thursday's Game 2.
"I just reiterate to Donald that if he simply leads the team in protecting our defense at the rim, I think we really have a good chance of beating any team," said the coach.
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