ART de la Cruz scored the winning goal in the dying seconds as defending champion San Beda College Red Lions escaped with a 71-70 win over host College of St. Benilde Blazers on opening day Saturday of the 89th National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) seniors basketball tournament at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.
Down by just a point, 70-69, in the last 4.7 seconds, de la Cruz received an inbound pass from Rome De la Rosa to score the winning basket, which coach Boyet Fernandez described as a lucky shot and a lucky start in their quest for a rare fourth straight title and 18th overall in the oldest collegiate league.
“We really came into the game well prepared. We practiced that play several times. But I admit, it was a lucky shot, lucky win and a lucky start for us. I also gave credit to St. Benilde for a wonderful game,” said Fernandez.
The Red Lions started strong and took a 10-0 lead early behind de la Cruz, De la Rosa and Ryusei Koga, who combined for 34 points in the game. But the Blazers gained confidence in the third period and gave the Red Lions a down-the-wire battle.
De La Cruz led San Beda with 16 points, Nigerian 6’8 Olaide Adeogun finished with 11 and De la Rosa, 10.
Mark Romero scored a game-high 19 points for the Blazers and Jeffrey Ongteco and Jose Saavedra each contributed 10.