Art de la Cruz scored back-to-back baskets in the crucial stretch as
San Beda College edged Letran, 60-56, to clinch its fourth straight NCAA men’s basketball crown on Saturday at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.
It was also the Red Cubs’ 18th title in the country’s oldest collegiate league.
De La Cruz’s twin baskets provided the clutch hits at the time when the Knights’ moved to within a point, 55-44, with less than 2 minutes left in the game.
The 6’8 Nigerian Olaide Adeogun likewise shared the heroic role by dominating the paint and blocking Kevin Racal’s final attempt.
The 21-year-old De la Cruz, who finished with 20 points, was named Finals Most Valuable Player (MVP). while San Beda coach Boyet Fernandez was named “Coach of the Year.”
Fernandez likewise joined an elite cast of coaches who won a crown in their rookie year. The others were Ato Agustin of San Sebastian College Stags and Ronnie Magsanoc, who piloted San Beda to the championship last year.
“When we were down by six points in the first half. I really shouted in the dugout because they have to do what they have to do and they never did it. I also gave Letran the credit for giving us a tough game today,” said Fernandez.
The game was close throughout with the Knights posting the biggest
lead of the game, 32-24, on Kevin Racal’s two free throws at the start
of the third period.
But a 10-2 run by the Red Lions in the third quarter tied the score for the last time, 39-39.
“I challenged Olaide Adeogun during the game. He is one of the good players in the league today. I told him we have a problem here, you’ve got to stop Mark Cruz. He is half your size but he is getting those rebounds,” Fernandez said.
The Red Lions won Game One, 80-68, but lost Game Two, 74-79.
The foul trouble of pro-bound 6’7 Raymond Almazan was costly for the Knights. He committed his fourth foul with still 3:46 remaining in the third quarter while the dimunitive guard Mark Cruz suffered a cramp in the crucial moments when Letran reduced the gap to 56-57, in the dying seconds of the last period.
Also contributing heavily for San Beda were Adeogun with 17 points, and Baser Amer, Rome de la Rosa with six points apiece.
Almazan led the Knights with 14 points, Mark Cruz and Rey Nambatac settled with 10 each.