MANILA, Philippines – Letran continued its magical run straight to the NCAA Season 95 finals as the Knights escaped the mighty San Beda Red Lions, 65-64, in Game 1 at the Mall of Asia Arena on Tuesday, November 12.
The shocker marked the first time San Beda lost an NCAA men's basketball game in nearly 15 months, ending a winning streak that spanned 32 straight games.
In a contest that went down to the wire, team captain Jerrick Balanza calmly sank a go-ahead trey that put his team up, 62-60, in the final 3:46 of regulation.
Larry Muyang then split his charities in the next possession for a three-point lead, 63-60, as San Beda could just not buy a bucket down the stretch.
Scrappy Letran guard Fran Yu then proved why he was named the Most Improved Player as he corralled a huge board off MVP Calvin Oftana’s missed trey in the Red Lions’ final possession as Mythical Five guard Evan Nelle promptly fouled.
Yu, however, missed his first free throw, which meant had no choice but to purposely miss his second charity as the last 2.4 seconds whittled away to seal the stunning win for Letran.
Despite the historical win, head coach Bonnie Tan is not sitting on his team’s laurels just yet.
“It’s just one game, but we’re happy for that win, because that’s 18-0,” Tan said after his Knights dealt the Red Lions' first loss of the season right on the league's the biggest stage.
“It’s a tall order to beat a team like that. Winning the Most Improved Player boosted [Yu’s] confidence.”
Graduating guard Bonbon Batiller led the Knights’ charge with 12 points, 5 rebounds and 2 assists while Balanza and Yu added 10 markers apiece.
Sophomore guard Evan Nelle paced San Beda with a game-high 20 points and 7 boards on an 8-of-19 clip.
Oftana and fellow Mythical Five member James Canlas chipped in 11 markers apiece while Best Foreigner Donald Tankoua was held to 7 points and 13 boards on a 3-of-10 clip.
Letran now has a chance to complete an improbable finals sweep and clinch their first title in 4 years on Friday, November 15, still at the Mall of Asia Arena.
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.
Quarters: 17-18, 28-32, 47-44, 65-64.