MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) — The Colegio de San Juan de Letran Knights figured in a 29-point blowout victory over the College of St. Benilde Blazers, 82-53, for a strong debut in season 91 of the NCAA men's basketball tournament on Tuesday, June 30 at the FilOil Flying V Arena in San Juan.
Guard Mark Cruz, who is playing in his final season for Letran, topscored with 16 points on 4-of-8 shooting from long range. He also had 3 rebounds, 3 assists and 4 steals on top of organizing his teammates, especially the rookies, on the floor.
"Siya pinakamaliit pero (He's the smallest but) he has the biggest heart," head coach Aldrin Ayo said of his team captain.
Kier Quinto added 14 points off the bench while Rey Nambatac posted 11 points, 9 rebounds and two steals. Jomari Sollano chipped in 10 markers.
The huge winning margin, according to Ayo, did not come easy.
"We want it the hard way. Ayaw namin mag relax (We don't want to relax)," he said. "I told the guys after this game gusto ko mapagod kayo (I want you to be tired)."
Ayo and the Knights employed what they dubbed as "chaotic" basketball in an attempt to offset their lack of height.
"Gusto namin ng magulo. Ayaw namin ng conventional na basketball," Ayo explained. "Every time nakukuha namin yung bola gusto namin magulo kami. Kahit sa opensa and depensa gusto namin magulo sila."
(We want to be chaotic. We don't want conventional basketball. Every time we get the ball, we want to have chaos. Even on offense or defense, we want them to be chaotic.)
His squad outran the Blazers and forced them to commit 33 turnovers which the Knights converted into 32 points.
And despite the height disadvantage, gang rebounding proved sufficient for Letran as they edged Benilde in that department, 44-40, with every player on Ayo's roster with at least a rebound.
The only problem to their fast-paced play is Letran likewise had 20 turnovers.
Jonathan Grey scattered 16 markers, grabbed 6 boards, dished two assists and swiped two steals to lead Benilde. John Domingo added 10 points.
The Knights, which missed the Final Four last season after back-to-back Finals appearances, played like they were out to prove something as they zoomed to a double-digit lead early in the first half.
The Blazers, last season's 5th place finishers above the 6th place Knights, never threatened throughout the contest and trailed by as much as 28 with 3 minutes remaining before notching its biggest lead with the final tally. — Rappler.com