MANILA, Philippines – (UPDATED) For the 10th time in the last 12 seasons, the San Beda College Red Lions are the kings of the NCAA.
The Red Lions displayed their championship poise in the final quarter as they turned back the Lyceum of the Philippines University, 92-82, in Game 2 of the NCAA Season 93 men's basketball finals to secure their second consecutive men's basketball title, and 21st overall.
In front of a mammoth crowd of 14,693 fans at the Araneta Coliseum on Thursday, the Red Lions proved to be the more composed team in the fourth quarter as they broke the hearts of the Pirates – who lost twice in a week's time after winning all their games in the elimination round.
"They really wanted to win this game, pero sobrang excited sila," said San Beda coach Boyet Fernandez, who won his third NCAA title. "Nag-settle down kami noong halftime. I give credit to my boys."
"This championship will not be a reality if not for my players," he also said. "They deserve to win this championship. We know in the course of the season, people doubted us. But this team never doubted each other."
Much like he did in Game 1, Robert Bolick came up with the biggest plays for San Beda down the stretch. The gutsy guard scored nine points in the final period, including the booming three-pointer with 50 seconds left that gave them an 89-92 lead, and knocked the wind out of the Pirates' sails.
Bolick finished with 18 points, five rebounds, and six assists, while Donald Tankoua again was a force in the paint for the Red Lions as he tallied 17 points and 17 rebounds. Three other San Beda players scored in double-digits, including Davon Potts who had 15 points in his last game as a Red Lion.
"Itong finals na ito, kung pwede lang dalawa ang champion, ibibigay ko sa kanila. They really deserve it," said Bolick after the game as he paid tribute to their gallant opponents. "It's our experience in the finals – 'yun lang siguro ang edge namin sa kanila."
Tankoua, who missed the Season 92 Finals due to an ACL injury, was named the Finals MVP after averaging 22 points and 18.5 rebounds in the two-game series.
Lyceum was clearly determined to extend the series to a deciding Game 3, none more than season MVP CJ Perez. He had 13 points in the first half alone as Lyceum surged to a 47-41 lead. Early in the third period, he displayed his skills as he knocked down a triple, then scored off a lay-up for a 55-47 Lyceum advantage.
But San Beda responded with an 8-0 run anchored by Javee Mocon to tie the count at 55 with 4:31 left in the frame, and it was a back-and-forth contest from there as neither team could fully seize control.
The Pirates rebuilt a six-point lead, 63-57, with 2:26 left only to see San Beda erase it in a span of two minutes, with Bolick knocking down a three-pointer to give them a 64-63 lead with 25 seconds to go.
MJ Ayaay responded with a triple of his own to beat the buzzer, putting Lyceum ahead by the slimmest of margins, 66-65. It was clear that the final period would be a war of attrition, just as it was in Game 1 of the series.
"I told them that we just have to make stops," said Fernandez of his message to his players before the fourth frame. "We just have to make stops. We showed today that if we just make stops and execute our offense, we can win the game. It shows defense prevails against offense."
The Pirates last took the lead with 5:33 left, after Reymar Caduyac and Jaycee Marcelino conspired for five straight points, with Marcelino capping the run with a transition bucket that made it 76-73.
That was when Bolick simply took over for the Red Lions. With five minutes left, he knocked down two charities to cut the deficit to one, before AC Soberano fired up a triple, and Tankoua scored on a difficult lay-up for an 80-76 lead.
Lyceum cut the deficit to just one point twice, first at 79-80 then again at 82-83, off an and-1 by Mike Nzeusseu with 1:41 left to play.
It was all San Beda from there, however, and Bolick was the one who made it possible.
Smothered by three Lyceum players near the half court line, Bolick found Soberano wide open at the corner for a booming three-pointer and an 86-82 lead. The Red Lions got a stop on the other end, and Bolick showed his clutch gene anew as he knocked down a three-pointer of his own for an 89-82 lead with just 50 seconds to play.
"I just trusted my shots," said Bolick, who virtually replicated his Game 1 heroics where he scored 11 points in the final quarter. "I was comfortable making that three, kasi I've been practicing really hard for it."
Perez committed a turnover in Lyceum's next possession, then fouled out with 36 seconds to go as he was forced to send Tankoua to the line. The Pirates threw in the towel with still 10 seconds left, as their coaches and players shook hands with the Red Lions as time ticked down to zero.
It was a sorry end to what had been a historic season for the Pirates, who won all 18 of their elimination round games to barge into the finals outright. When it came to championship series, however, they were unable to find that next gear in the endgame that had brought them so much success in the eliminations.
As Bolick said, it was their experience that ultimately tipped the series in their favor. "The only thing we had as our advantage in the finals is our experience. We know how to compose ourselves in crunch time," he explained.
Perez, who was named MVP in Game 1, finished with 22 points, four rebounds, five assists, and three steals before fouling out. Nzeusseu had a double-double of 15 points and 15 boards, and Marcelino contributed 12 markers.
But no other Lyceum player finished in double-digits, and the Pirates were ultimately undone by their poor shooting. Lyceum made only seven of their 25 three-pointers, and missed 11 of 24 free throws in a 10-point loss.
SAN BEDA 92 – Bolick 18, Tankoua 17, Potts 15, Mocon 14, Soberano 11, Abuda 5, Bahio 5, Presbitero 3, Doliguez 2, Noah 2, Tongco 0, Adamos 0
LPU 82 – Perez 22, Nzeusseu 15, Marcelino JC 12, Ayaay 7, Caduyac 6, Santos 6, Tansingco 5, Marcelino JV 4, Pretta 2, Serrano 2, Ibanez 1, Baltazar 0
Quarter scores: 17-22, 41-47, 65-66, 92-82
For more sports coverage, visit the ABS-CBN Sports website.