MANILA, Philippines -- (UPDATED) Colegio de San Juan de Letran is progressing in the NCAA Season 95 stepladder semifinals.
This, after the Knights weathered a tremendous fourth-quarter rally by San Sebastian College for a thrilling 85-80 victory, Tuesday in front of a raucous crowd at the Cuneta Astrodome.
Six players scored in double-digits for the Knights, led by veteran Jerrick Balanza who put up 15 points, 6 rebounds, and 4 assists. Bonbon Batiller added 14 points, and Allen Mina scored 9 of his 12 points in the first half to anchor Letran's strong start.
This is Letran's first postseason win in the NCAA since their magical run to the Season 91 title, and they advance to play Lyceum of the Philippines University in the next phase of the stepladder semifinals. The winner of that match moves on to the best-of-3 finals against defending champion San Beda University.
"Isa lang masasabi ko. Ayaw pang maglaro ng mga veterans ko ng last game nila," said Letran coach Bonnie Tan after their hard-earned win. "So gusto nila mag-practice pa bukas, and hindi sila bumigay sa magandang pinakita ng Baste."
The Knights appeared headed for a comfortable triumph after they pulled ahead by 14 points, 77-63, thanks to back-to-back three-pointers by Batiller with still seven minutes left to play in the game.
RK Ilagan, however, refused to let San Sebastian go down without a fight. He scored 8 straight points, including two triples, to make it a 6-point game, 77-71, with still 5:19 left. Free throws by Christian Balagasay and Larry Muyang helped Letran gain some breathing room, 81-73, with 2:43 to go.
The Golden Stags made their last stand, with Alvin Capobres scoring four straight points and Ilagan drilling his seventh three-pointer of the contest to make it a one-point game, 81-80, with still 1:40 left to play. They got a chance to take the lead after forcing a stop against Letran, but Allyn Bulanadi, who struggled all throughout the contest, badly misfired on a triple in their next trip down.
San Sebastian's defense broke down from there, as King Caralipio got free for a layup that made it 83-80, with 59 seconds left. The final minute of the game turned nightmarish for the Stags at that point: Ilagan was called for a backing violation with 35 seconds left, and Capobres committed a turnover on a wild drive with 24 seconds to go.
That forced the Stags to send Balanza to the line, where the Letran guard proceeded to muff both charities to give San Sebastian a sliver of hope. But Fran Yu came up with a massive offensive rebound, and after another duty foul, the guard coolly knocked down both charities to seal the triumph.
"We were outrebounded, pero again, a win is a win," said Tan, noting that San Sebastian controlled the glass, 46-34.
The Knights were far more efficient, however, shooting 47.54% from the field and limiting the Stags to 38% shooting. Bulanadi, in particular, was shackled: in his final NCAA game, the MVP candidate made only 5-of-17 shots for 15 points.
It was Ilagan who carried the load for San Sebastian, scoring a career-best 36 points on 12-of-20 shooting, with 13 markers coming in the fourth quarter. However, he also committed 4 turnovers, the last of which all but sealed the Stags' fate.
Letran has no time to celebrate its win, as the Knights face Lyceum on Friday in another knockout game to determine who goes to the finals.
"Wala pa, wala pang plano," said Tan, admitting that they were fully focused on the Stags.
"Sabi nga namin, walang mangyayaring preparation pagka dalawa kaagad, pagka sa first game pa lang, hindi na natin matawid," he pointed out.
The Pirates won both of their elimination round encounters against the Knights this year.
LETRAN 85 -- Balanza 15, Batiller 14, Mina 12, Muyang 11, Ular 10, Yu 10, Caralipio 9, Balagasay 4, Ambohot 0, Olivario 0, Reyson 0, Sangalang 0, Javillonar 0.
SAN SEBASTIAN 80 -- Ilagan 36, Bulanadi 15, Villapando 8, Calahat 7, Capobres 5, Altamirano 5, Desoyo 2, Sumoda 1, Cosari 1, Calma 0, Isidro 0.
Quarter scores: 23-20, 50-40, 69-59, 85-80.
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