The Letran Knights lost two key players to cramps but leaned on the defensive heroics of Jerrick Balanza to upset defending champion San Beda Red Lions, 81-79, and snatch the 95th National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) men’s basketball crown after Game 3 earlier at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Mainstays Bonbon Batiller and Finals MVP Fran Yu were carried out after being sidelined by cramps. Batiller returned to the fray in time to distract a three-point attempt by Evan Nelle at the buzzer, allowing the Knights to claim their 18th crown since 1938.
Balanza banged in a game-high 15 points for the Knights, who wrested the title in almost the same way when they last won at the Red Lions expense, and with Aldin Ayo still calling the shots back in 2015.
The Knights put the Red Lions in an unfamiliar situation when they took the upper hand at halftime, 44-38, off a layup and triple from Ato Ular and Allen Mina.
And they held on to the lead and pulled away by as much as 13 points off King Caralipio’s two freebies, 69-59, in the closing minutes of the third.
Yu, who had eight points, put the Knights beyond reach with his two free throws with 15.9 seconds.
But, Nelle brought the San Beda back within range with the last of his two treys, 79-81, with 13 ticks to go.
Meanwhile, Justin Sanchez fired 19 and had seven rebounds to lead the San Beda Red Cubs to a record 24th championship in the junior division.
One of eight graduating players in the team, Sanchez struck with nine points in the third period as the Red Cubs coasted to a 98-77 swamping of Lyceum Junior Pirates in Game 3 of their best-of-three finals.
Jay Ynot, who is also on his final year, added 18 points and eight rebounds for the Red Cubs, and he hit eight points in the first period
Ynot’s triple came as the Red Cubs overtook a 10-14 deficit with an 11-0 rally, and moved away, 21-14, with 2:23 left.
“Sinabihan ko sa mga boys pagkatapos naming matalo ng Game 2. Napressure kasi at daming pumasok sa isip. Naniwala lang kami sa isa’t isa at di kami bumitiw,” said Red Cubs coach Manu Inigo.
Finals MVP Rhayyan Amsali, making up for his disqualification in the Mythical Five race, shot 16 points and hauled down 11 rebounds for the Red Cubs.
Amsali drilled 13 points in the third period, and his big effort sent San Beda to their biggest lead, 79-49, with less than a minute left.
The Red Cubs, with Cyrus Llarena making 10 points, have achieved history in ending a three-year title drought.
They have become the winningest high school squad on record with their 24th plum, and this moved them ahead of the Malayan Red Robins (22).
Mclaude Guadana showed the way with 24 points for the Junior Pirates.
SAN BEDA 98 – Sanchez 19, Ynot 18, Amsali 16, Llarena 19, Oftana 9, Alao 8, Cabanero 5, Pelipel 4, Andrada 3, Nicdao 3, Alcantara 2, Delfino 1, Pascual 0, Valencia 0, Peregrina 0.
LYCEUM 77 – Guadana 24, Omandac 12, Barba 11, Montano 10, Garro 6, Panganiban 5, Ragasa 5, Caduyac 2, Garing 2, Gamlanga 0, Gudmalin 0, Dejelo 0, Dumon 0. Quarters: 27-18, 50-33, 81-51, 98-77.