Colegio de San Juan de Letran penetrated the tenacious defense of champion San Beda College, 94-90, to take the series opener of the National Collegiate Athletic Association Season 91 men’s basketball finals on Friday at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.
Graduating Kevin Racal posted 28 points on top of five rebounds, five assists and two steals to lead the Knights to a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three championship showdown.
“We’re expecting this kind of game. I know it will be a tough game, we know that it will be a dogfight. I just to the players that we just have to be tough and grab this opportunity because not all players, not all coaches are given this kind of opportunity [to play in the finals],” said Letran head coach Aldin Ayo.
Three other players scored in double figures with Rey Nambatac nailing 18, Mark Cruz notching 17 and McJour Luib adding 16 as Letran moved from within a win of claiming its 17th overall crown in the league.
Leran got motivation from eight-division world boxing champion and Letran team manager Manny Pacquiao, who stayed all through out the game.
“When he [Pacquiao] entered in our dugout, nakita ko sa mukha ng mga bata, they felt elated na nabigyan kami ng ganung presensya niya. Very timely na championship game nandito siya. We’re motivated, inspired pa rin kami dahil nandun yung suporta niya,” added Ayo.
Nigerian Ola Adeogun led San Beda with 23 points and 16 rebounds while Rysei Koga and Roldan Sara contributed 10 each.
Letran was able to convert 25 points off San Beda’s 29 turnovers.
Game 2 is set on October 27 at the same venue.
In the juniors division, San Beda moved closer of clinching its seventh straight title after repulsing Arellano University, 76-68, in Game 1 of their own championship series.
Evan Nelle scored 16 points and four boards while Aberto Bordeus added 12 markers for the Red Cubs, who hold a thrice-to-beat advantage in the series after sweeping the elimination round.
“Talagang pinush namin kasi ‘yung style of play namin ganun talaga. We won the whole two rounds of elimination with that so bakit kami magbabago [ng plan]. Well-rested kami, fresh kami coming to this Game 1. Sila [Arellano] played the knockout game against La Salle-Zobel and then knockout stage with Mapua,” said San Beda head coach JV Sison.
Arellano got 24 from Guilmer Dela Torre, 14 from Lars Sunga and 10 from Carlo Abadeza.
Meanwhile, Mapua Institute of Technology’s Nigerian Allwell Oraeme bagged the Most Valuable Player (MVP), Rookie of the Year (ROY) and Defensive Player awards in the seniors division while Michael Calisaan of San Sebastian College-Recoletos was named Most Improved Player.
“It feels like a dream. I didn’t believe that I’m going to win three awards. I think I worked hard enough to get here and I’m grateful,” said Oraeme. “My plan for next year, I’ll try to improve my game more offensively.”
Oraeme was the third MVP-ROY awardee since Nigerian Sam Ekwe of San Beda got the same honors in 2006 and Gabby Espinas of former league member Philippine Christian University in 2004.
Besides Oraeme, the other members of the Mythical Selection were Bradwyn Guinto of San Sebastian College-Recoletos, Arthur Dela Cruz of San Beda, and Earl Thompson and Bright Akhuetie of University of Perpetual Help System Dalta.
Michael Enriquez of Mapua took the MVP trophy in the juniors division while Lars Sunga of Arellano University was the ROY, Maui Cruz of Emilio Aguinaldo College got the Most Improved Player plum and John Umali of Perpetual claimed the Defensive Player title.
Joining Enriquez in the Mythical Selection were Abadeza, San Sebastian’s King Pacis, Lyceum of the Philippines’ Chester Jungco, Mapua’s Sherwin Concepcion.
College of St. Benilde’s Ricci Rivero actually led the MVP race but was disqualified after being ejected in the first round of eliminations.
Games on Tuesday (MOA Arena) – Game 2
2 p.m. Arellano vs San Beda (juniors)
4 p.m. Letran vs San Beda (seniors)