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Tuesday, February 27, 2024

San Beda, Letran down foes, clash for NCAA title

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San Beda College swamped Jose Rizal University, 78-68, even as Letran nipped Mapua, 91-90, in their Final Four matches before a huge crowd yesterday at the Mall of Asia Arena to arrange a finals reunion for the 91st National Collegiate Athletic Association men’s basketball tournament.

The Red Lions and the Knights last met in the finals in 2013, and the Intramuros dribblers will finally have a chance to get back at San Beda, which won their fourth title in a row at their expense.

The Red Lions are now in their 10th finals appearance and are looking to clinch an unprecedented sixth straight NCAA men’s senior crown to match the Red Cubs’ record.

Letran guard Rey Nambatac (no. 16) gets tagged by Mapua center  Allwell Oraeme (no. 10) as he goes for as another Mapua player looks on in the NCAA Final Four action at the Mall of Asia Arena yesterday. BROSI GONZALES

The Red Lions and the Knights play Game 1 of their best-of-three series at 4 p.m. at the MOA Arena on Friday.     

In fashioning out the win, the Red Lions drew big baskets from second-stringers Donald Tankoua, Roldan Sara, Ranbill Tongco and Javee Mocon, who took over the veterans in scoring entering the fourth.

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Tankoua completed a three-point play barely three minutes into the fourth period to break the game’s last deadlock.  Seconds later, Sara had his own three-point play to give San Beda a six-point cushion, 62-56.

Tongco and Mocon then joined the scoring fray as the Red Lions stayed in control, 66-58, with 5:33 to go.

“Big game. Biggest game so far to make it to the finals. And, guess what, the bench delivered. The starting unit was struggling. So I asked the second unit if they still have the energy. They said yes, so I kept them,” said Red Lions coach Jamike Jarin.

JRU’s big man Abdoul Potouochi had 14 points and eight rebounds, and Marco Balagtas and Tey Teodoro did their share but their efforts fell short against San Beda’s scoring juggernaut. 

Sara finished with 11 points along with Baser Amer, while AC Soberano and Tankoua had 10 apiece.

The Letran Knights, meanwhile, earlier  made sure that they would be back in the finals.

The Knights relied on top gunners Mark Cruz and Kevin Racal, who drilled pressure-packed free throws to lead the Knights back into the championship series. 

Cruz finished with 24 points, capping his game-long brilliance with a free throw in the final 8.1 seconds for the Knights, who, like the Lions, hold a twice-to-beat edge.

The Cardinals were still in the match in the final 1:16 on Allwell Oraeme’s putback, 85-87, but Racal split his charities in the ensuing play and added two more to give Letran a 90-85 spread with only 31 seconds to go.

Oraeme, however, struck again near the basket to put Mapua within three, 90-87, but Cruz split from the line kept Letran out of reach as time trickled away.

“Masarap, because nobody expected us to be here,” said Letran coach Aldin Ayo.

Meanwhile, the Arellano University Braves  scored a huge 85-70 upset win over the second seed Mapua Red Robins in the stepladder semisd playoff and earn their first-ever finals appearance in the juniors division.

Marlon Espiritu, who only had seven points, saved his best for last, scoring a trey in the final 1:45 left that put the Braves on top for good.

“Heto, kahit paano nandito kami sa finals. Blessing ito,” said Arellano coach Tylon Darjuan as the Braves gets ready to tackle early finalist San Beda Red Cubs.  They start their finals series at 2 p.m., also on Friday.

Games Friday

(Game 1, MOA Arena)

2 p.m. • San Beda vs 

Arellano (jrs)

4 p.m. • San Beda vs 

Letran (srs)

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