THE Letran Knights squandered an early 21-point lead but were able to utilize the three-point zone in the pivotal period to escape with an 80-77 win over the Mapua Cardinals on Friday in the 91st National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) basketball tournament at The Arena in San Juan City on Friday. The victory brought back Letran to the no.1 spot.
Rey Nambatac fired four triples while Mark Cruz connected one in the fourth quarter to secure the team’s eighth win at the end of the first round elimination.
Their lone defeat was at the hands of the Emilio Aguinaldo College Generals, 83-69, on August 7. Mapua, on the other hand, with a 4-5 win-loss record dropped to solo sixth spot.
“Our pressing defense was effective, but they countered with a zone that flattened us in the third period. It was good; our shots went in the fourth period. I just kept on hitting because I felt good with it,” said Nambatac.
Nambatac finished with 22 points – 14 in the fourth quarter – on top of 10 rebounds and five steals. Cruz posted 16 points and six assists while Jerick Balanza contributed 11 for the Knights.
“The pressure is really intense. Last night I was not able to have enough sleep because I know this is a big game for us. After a loss, we have to win. Our victory was not pretty well. But we will take the win. If we gain something out of it is what I’ve seen now, the maturity and competitiveness of my players,” said Letran coach Aldin Ayo in Filipino.
Allwell Oraeme led the Cardinals with 23 points and a season-high 28 rebounds. Biteng notched 15 points while Stephen Que scored 13 points and three assists.
In the other game, last year’s runner-up Arellano University Chiefs beat the College of Saint Benilde Blazers, 85-73.
In the high school division, the Mapua Red Robins routed the Letran Squires, 97-63, to end the first round at No. 2 with an 8-1 record behind unbeaten San Beda Red Cubs. In the other game, the Saint Benilde-La Salle Greenhills Greenies crushed the Arellano Braves, 90-69, improving their win-loss record to 5-4.