MANILA, Philippines – (UPDATED) The defending champions made sure to prove their worth on the biggest stage.
After bowing to Lyceum of the Philippines University (LPU) twice in the elimination round, the San Beda Red Lions earned a breakthrough victory over the Pirates in Game 1 of the NCAA Season 93 Finals on Friday at the Araneta Coliseum.
With Donald Tankoua manning the paint and Robert Bolick taking charge in crunch time, San Beda hacked out a 94-87 victory over Lyceum to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three series.
The result snapped Lyceum's remarkable 18-game winning streak in Season 93, which included a pair of tight wins over the defending champions.
"I just give credit to my players," said San Beda coach Boyet Fernandez after the game. "We were down by 12 points, and they never gave up. People said that the heart of LPU is really big, but the heart of my players were really big as well."
"It's my boys who stepped up in this game," he added. "Diskarte na lang ng players ko."
Tankoua, who missed all of last season's Finals due to an ACL injury, had 27 points and 20 rebounds, and he kept the Red Lions in the game during the first three frames when the Pirates threatened to pull away.
But it was Bolick who shone brightest for San Beda, as he anchored the Red Lions' charge in the final three minutes of the game to lead his team to victory.
"Give credit to Robert," said Fernandez. "He really stepped up in the second half."
The Pirates led by as much as 12 points, 57-45, off an MJ Ayaay triple with 8:25 left in the third quarter. But the Red Lions steadily clawed their way back, and a 17-3 run by San Beda gave them a 64-60 lead with under two minutes left in the quarter.
Lyceum would tie the game at 64 at the end of the period, paving the way for a furious finish.
The Red Lions appeared ready to seize control of the game as they opened the fourth on a 7-3 run for a 72-67 advantage, but CJ Perez – the newly crowned season MVP – refused to let his team fall behind. His step-back three-pointer tied the game at 72 with 7:21 left.
The lead would change three more times, with San Beda seizing an 80-78 advantage off a Tankoua bucket, only for Jaycee Marcelino to score in transition off a Joe Presbitero turnover. His lay-up tied the game at 80 with 3:04 to go, but it wound up to be the last deadlock of the game.
San Beda unleashed a stunning 11-2 run, highlighted a banked-in three-pointer from Bolick at the 1:28 mark, to fully take control of the game. When the dust settled, Bolick had sliced into the lane for a lay-up that made it 91-82 with just 34 seconds to go.
Lyceum actually cut down the lead to just four points, 87-91, with still 20 seconds left after scoring five points in a span of 15 seconds. They ran out of time, however, with Davon Potts and Bolick icing the game at the free throw line.
Crucial to the Red Lions' victory was how they cut down on their turnovers in the second half. After committing 14 turnovers in the first half – which led to 18 points for the Pirates – they had only five more the rest of the way.
Their hard work on the glass also paid off. Tankoua by himself grabbed nine offensive boards, one more than the entire Lyceum team. The Red Lions had 15 second chance points after tallying a 51-35 rebounding edge.
Potts contributed 15 points, while Javee Mocon added 11 points and nine rebounds.
Perez finished with 25 points and eight rebounds for Lyceum, while Mike Nzeusseu added 14 points and eight rebounds. But the Marcelino twins were limited to 14 points combined, and their inability to finish defensive possessions harmed the Pirates, especially in the final frame.
San Beda will try to clinch a second straight NCAA championship - and their 10th title in 12 years – on Thursday, November 16, also at the Big Dome.
SAN BEDA 94 – Tankoua 27, Bolick 24, Potts 15, Mocon 11, Soberano 9, Tongco 4, Doliguez 2, Noah 2, Abuda 0, Presbitero 0, Adamos 0
LPU 87 – Perez 25, Nzeusseu 14, Ayaay 11, Caduyac 9, Marcelino JV 8, Marcelino JC 6, Ibanez 6, Santos 5, Pretta 3, Serrano 0, Baltazar 0
QUARTER SCORES: 22-21, 45-50, 64-64, 94-87
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