MANILA, Philippines -- (2ND UPDATE) The Colegio de San Juan de Letran Knights did what no other team has done in the NCAA Season 95 men's basketball tournament -- defeat the mighty San Beda University Red Lions.
The Knights hacked out a thrilling 65-64 upset of San Beda in Game 1 of the best-of-3 finals, in front of a raucous crowd at the Mall of Asia Arena on Tuesday afternoon.
In the process, Letran ended San Beda's 32-game winning streak dating back to August 2018, and moved on the cusp of claiming their first NCAA championship since 2015 -- when an upstart team coached by Aldin Ayo also stunned the Red Lions.
The Knights, which had to win two knockout games last week just to make it to the championship round, displayed their poise in the clutch against the erstwhile unbeaten Red Lions, who had not played since October 17.
Bonbon Batiller had 12 points, while Jerrick Balanza scored 10 markers -- including the go-ahead three-pointer with under four minutes to go. But it was diminutive point guard Fran Yu who took charge in the clutch, finishing with 10 points, 6 assists, and 3 steals.
"One game pa lang naman, pero we’re happy for that win. Kasi nga, 18-0, so it’s a tall order na ma-beat ang isang klaseng team na ganyan," said Letran head coach Bonnie Tan.
In a heart-stopping contest that featured seven ties and 14 lead changes, the Red Lions appeared headed for their 19th consecutive victory of Season 95 when they surged ahead, 58-54, with 5:38 left off a three-pointer by James Canlas.
A four-point cushion, however, proved insufficient as Balanza knocked down two charities to make it a one-possession game. A Donald Tankoua bucket restored their four-point lead, but Yu drilled a three-pointer to trim the deficit, before Balanza knocked down a crucial triple with 3:51 to go to switch the lead to Letran, 62-60.
After a Larry Muyang split at the line made it a three-point game, Tankoua cut into the lead with a tip-in. But Yu came up big again, assisting on a crucial bucket by Muyang with 1:28 to go for a 65-62 spread.
The Red Lions last threatened when Evan Nelle slashed into the lane for a layup, 65-64, and the Knights committed a 24-second violation in their next trip down the line. Their defense held strong, however, as Calvin Oftana's potential go-ahead triple was off the mark. Yu came up with the rebound and was fouled by Nelle. Though he muffed both charities, time ran out on San Beda and the final buzzer marked the end of their winning streak.
"'Di pa rin tapos," said Tan. "Sana 'di na pakawalan ng mga players. Sila naman naglalaro. Kung gusto nila, kunin nila. We're here to guide lang and to motivate them. The rest, it's up to them, kung ano 'yung gusto nilang mangyari sa season na ito."
The Knights can clinch the series on Friday's Game 2, still at the MOA Arena.
Nelle finished with 20 points and 7 rebounds, but he only managed one assist after leading the league in dimes during the season. James Canlas and Oftana, both members of the Mythical Team, were limited to 11 points.
Letran shot 41.67% from the field, while limiting San Beda to just 30.23%. The Red Lions were also unable to take advantage of the Knights' 20 turnovers, as they only scored 7 points off those errors.
The Knights' zone defense flustered San Beda into shooting just 30% from the three-point area, after making 45% of their triples in the elimination round. The Red Lions only had 10 assists, after averaging nearly 20 dimes per game in the eliminations.
LETRAN 65 -- Batiller 12, Balanza 10, Yu 10, Ambohot 9, Muyang 7, Reyson 7, Mina 3, Ular 3, Caralipio 2, Sangalang 2, Balagasay 0, Olivario 0.
SAN BEDA 64 -- Nelle 20, Canlas 11, Oftana 11, Tankoua 7, Soberano 6, Bahio 4, Doliguez 3, Etrata 2, Abuda 0, Cuntapay 0, Alfaro 0.
Quarter scores: 17-18, 28-32, 47-44, 65-64
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