MANILA, Philippines (UPDATE)—Not today.
Calvin Oftana lived up to his billing as Most Valuable Player, powering the San Beda Red Lions to a thrilling 79-76 victory over the Letran Knights in Game 2 of the NCAA Season 95 men's basketball finals.
In front of an exuberant crowd at Mall of Asia Arena Friday afternoon, the Red Lions got off to a fast start, squandered all of a double-digit lead, and stared elimination in the face before being bailed out by their MVP.
The Red Lions trailed 76-74 after a Larry Muyang jumper gave the Knights the lead with 55.4 seconds left, and they failed to execute out of a timeout as Donald Tankoua committed a turnover.
The defending champions would not be denied, however. They forced a stop on Muyang in Letran's next possession, and went to Oftana on the other end of the floor. The swingman drove hard to the hoop, shrugged off the defense of Bonbon Batiller, and converted the shot with 19.1 ticks to go.
He coolly converted the bonus free throw for a 77-76 lead, sending the red side of the MOA Arena into a frenzy.
"A win is a win, and we'll take this one," said San Beda coach Boyet Fernandez. "I'm just relieved that we won this game. I salute my players also. That's what character is."
"Everybody is all against us, but the players don't want to lose. Credit to them, and nice comeback by Calvin," he added.
The Knights won the first game of the series, 65-64, last Tuesday, in the process spoiling San Beda's bid for a perfect season. Oftana missed a potential go-ahead shot in that game, as the Red Lions struggled as a team.
He bounced back in a major way in Game 2, finishing with 17 points, 11 of which came in the fourth quarter. He added 11 rebounds and 2 assists, along with 2 blocks. James Canlas put up 21 points — 10 in the fourth — along with 7 rebounds and 6 assists.
Clint Doliguez added 17 points and 6 rebounds, as San Beda shot 9 of 30 from behind the arc after going 6 of 40 in Game 1.
It looked as though the Red Lions would crush the Knights in Game 2, as they got off to a 15-0 start. A run by Letran in the second quarter did not faze them, as Doliguez drilled crucial triples to help them take a 37-25 lead at the half.
Yu, however, was simply unstoppable in the third period. The diminutive Letran guard poured 14 points in the frame, including back-to-back 3-pointers in the final two minutes. He also banked in a buzzer-beating shot to end the quarter to give the Knights a 56-53 lead.
He continued his exploits in the fourth frame, drilling a triple to break a 59-all deadlock. Jerrick Balanza added a layup and assisted on a Muyang bucket for a 66-59 advantage.
It was Oftana who came to the rescue. His 3-pointer sparked a 13-0 San Beda run that put them in control, 72-66, with 3:55 left. To make matters worse for the Knights, they lost Yu to cramps with 3:41 to go; the guard did not return to the game.
Still, the Knights had one more run in them. Muyang imposed his will inside the paint, anchoring a 10-2 exchange to seize the lead, 76-74, with 55.4 seconds to go.
But San Beda had the season MVP, and Oftana took charge in the closing stretch to push San Beda to the series-tying victory.
"We played all heart," said Oftana. "Ayaw pa namin matalo, gusto pa namin mag-training."
Letran still had a chance to win the game after Oftana's big play, but Batiller bricked a layup with 5.1 ticks left, allowing Canlas to ice the game at the free throw line.
Squandered in the defeat was a 23-point, 5-assist outing by Yu. The guard scored 19 points in the second half, making 5-of-8 3-pointers, but could just pray on the bench at the end of the game as they were unable to pull off the win.
Muyang had 17 points, and Batiller finished with 11 points. The Knights shot 40.68% from the field, and were left to rue their 21-of-27 shooting at the line after suffering the three-point loss.
The deciding Game 3 is on Tuesday at the MOA Arena.
SAN BEDA 79 -- Canlas 21, Oftana 17, Doliguez 17, Carino 7, Nelle 5, Soberano 5, Cuntapay 3, Tankoua 2, Abuda 2, Bahio 0, Noah 0,
LETRAN 76 -- Yu 23, Muyang 17, Batiller 11, Ambohot 9, Balanza 9, Caralipio 7, Olivario 0, Ular 0, Mina 0, Reyson 0, Balagasay 0, Sangalang 0.
Quarters: 18-7, 37-25, 53-56, 79-76.
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