MANILA, Philippines – After a three-year absence, the Letran Knights return to the NCAA Finals after surviving a late rally by the Lyceum Pirates, 92-88, in the men’s basketball stepladder semifinals at the Cuneta Astrodome on Friday, November 8.
The Knights marched back to the biggest stage as they face undefeated rival San Beda Red Lions in a best-of-three series for the Season 95 championship starting Tuesday.
The last time these two teams met, the Knights stunned the Red Lions and arrested a five-peat bid in 3 heart-stopping games to win the Season 91 championship.
Scrappy guard Fran Yu showed all heart in the face of elimination and led the Knights with 20 points, 6 assists and 5 rebounds as Larry Muyang added 19 markers and 9 boards on an 8-of-10 shooting both off the bench.
Team seniors did their thing as well as the graduating Bonbon Batiller and Jerrick Balanza chipped in 13 and 11 points, respectively.
“I’ll give it to my veterans, especially to the outgoing players of Letran,” said head coach Bonnie Tan. “I said last game, they want to prove something that maybe they weren’t able to prove these past few years.”
Before upsetting the No. 2 Pirates – who had hoped for a third straight Finals stint – the third-ranked Knights outlasted the San Sebastian Stags in another thriller, 85-80, last Tuesday.
Game 1 of the San Beda-Letran title due is set at 4 pm next Tuesday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Although the Knights were already up 11 with 2:38 left in the 4th quarter, the Pirates surged right back within striking distance after a crucial 10-2 run, 87-90, capped by back-to-back buckets by Jaycee Marcelino.
Unfazed, the Knights turned to their main man Balanza off the timeout, who flung the ball to King Caralipio after being trapped at half-court. Caralipio then found a wide-open Muyang, who sank the game-sealing bucket for a 92-87 lead with 18 ticks left.
Lyceum bruiser Mike Nzeusseu only managed to split his free throws in the final 9.3 seconds as the Knights held on for the right to face the undefeated Red Lions in the finals.
Jaycee Marcelino went down swinging with a game-high 26 points off the bench while Nzeusseu churned out a 19-point, 15-rebound double-double in his final NCAA game.
Letran 92 – Yu 20, Muyang 19, Batiller 13, Balanza 11, Reyson 6, Mina 5, Sangalang 5, Balagasay 4, Ular 4, Caralipio 2, Javillonar 2, Ambohot 1, Olivario 0.
Lyceum 88 – Jc. Marcelino 26, Nzeusseu 19, David 11, Caduyac 5, Jv. Marcelino 5, Navarro 5, Tansingco 4, Ibanez 4, Remulla 4, Santos 3, Guinto 2, Valdez 0.
Quarters: 20-26, 44-40, 67-66, 92-88.