MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) - Colegio de San Juan de Letran drew first blood against its longtime league rival San Beda College, winning Game 1 of the NCAA Season 91 best-of-3 final series by the score of 94-90 on Friday, October 23 at the SM Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.
Game 2 will take place on Tuesday, October 27 at 4 pm at the same playing venue as San Beda will need to win to force a decisive Game 3 on Thursday, while Letran will be looking to win its first NCAA title since 2005.
Graduating forward Kevin Racal spoiled San Beda's fourth-quarter rally by scoring a putback off his own miss with 40.3 seconds ticks to give Letran an 89-85 in the dying seconds of the game.
Mark Cruz and Rey Nambatac hammered the final nail in the coffin as Cruz converted his freebies from the foul line, while Nambatac delivered the basket to secure the victory after a three-pointer from San Beda’s Roldan Sara.
“I told Mark that this is our final year and we have to give it all,” Racal said in the post-game interview.
Entering the third frame with a 39-41 deficit, Letran quickly pummeled San Beda with a 17-9 romp that saw Racal registering 5 points and Nambatac drilling 4 buckets.
As San Beda’s Baser Amer pounced a tear drop to cut Letran’s lead to 52-56, Jomari Sollano dished the ball to Racal for an and-1 play to bring up the cushion to nine points.
Sensing the urgency, the Mendiola-based Red Lions managed to close out the third quarter with a 62-61 edge going to the final canto by biting back with a 10-0 blitz, where Nigerian reinforcement had 6 points from it.
Opting not to revert from its typical man-to-man pressure defense, Cruz, Racal and Nambatac sparked a three-point shootout versus San Beda, punching 5 shots from downtown.
However, Amer and AC Soberano answered back with 3 triples for the red-and-white troop to cope up with the Knight’s hot-gunslinging.
Veteran guard Ryusei Koga placed San Beda within striking distance as he stole the basketball face-to-face from Nambatac and sprinted to the goal for a layup.
As Koga missed a beyond-the-arc jumper to get the lead with 2:23 remaining Adeogun manned San Beda’s offense by chipping a breakaway layup and puncturing his freethrows, 87-89.
As Sara rekindled the hopes of the SBC crowd with a wide-open triple, Letran slammed the door on San Beda’s gutsy campaign to take away Game 1 with Racal’s putback and the lead-stretching effort from Cruz and Nambatac.
This is the first time since 2009 that San Beda lost the first outing of the championship series. In that same year, the Red Lions bowed down to San Sebastian College-Recoletos to snap their four-peat bid.
According to Letran head coach Aldin Ayo, he and his dirty dozen are looking to wrap things out in Game 2.
“I am expecting the same effort and same energy from San Beda,” Ayo expressed. “But we are going to finish this off.”
Racal finished with 28 makers to come along with 5 boards, 5 dimes and 2 steals, while Nambatac and Cruz hauled 18 and 17 points respectively.
Despite the losing effort, Adeogun had a double-double performance of 23 points and 16 rebounds.
Letran (94) – Racal 28, Nambatac 18, Cruz 17, Luib 16, Sollano 9, Quinto 4, Balagasay 2, Apreku 0, Balanza 0, Calvo 0
San Beda (90) – Adeogun 23, Koga 10, Sara 10, Soberano 9, Amer 8, Tankoua 8, Dela Cruz 7, Tongco 5, Mocon 4, Sorela 4, Presibitero 2, Cabañag 0, Reyes 0, Bonsubre 0, Sedillo 0
Quarter scores: 22-21, 39-41, 61-62, 94-90. – Rappler.com