FIVE-time straight champion San Beda College Red Lions displayed deadly form starting their campaign on a high note by beating host Mapua Institute of Technology Cardinals, 102-89, on Saturday in the 91st National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) basketball tournament at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.
Despite the absence of 2015 Southeast Asian Games standout Baser Amer and the 6’8 center Nigerian Ola Adeogun because of injury, skipper Arthur de la Cruz, Cameroonian Pierre Tankou, Roldan Sara, Ranbill Tongco and Ryusei Koga displayed a stellar performance combining 90 points. The Red Lions’ resounding victory in the opening game sends a strong message of their intention to become the first team to win six straight titles in the oldest collegiate league in the country.
“I hope and pray that NCAA will continue to discover and develop talents who will soon represent the country in international competitions. I truly believe that the NCAA is the best source of talents, since it has guided already several athletes who have been doing great both here and abroad. The league is the home of sports heroes,” said guest of honor and former Mapua player Alvin Patrimonio, a four-time Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) Most Valuable Player.
The win was also a fitting welcome to their new coach Jamike Jarin, who replaced Boyet Fernandez just this season. The multi-awarded coach Fernan¬dez agreed to coach the NLEX Road Warriors in the PBA.
“We’re happy, we are happy that our players played well. Even our top players are injured but it’s not about our no. 1 or no.2 players but everybody in the team. As the tourney goes on, we will get better,” said Jarin.
The Red Lions capitalized on their vast experience to establish an early 16-4 lead, which later ballooned to 15 points, 22-7, with still 3:53 left in the opening canto. Mapua’s Josan Nimes high 17-point output in the first half alone was not enough to prevent the Red Lions from posting a 49-38 lead at the half. Both Koga and Tongco joined forces with seven triples in the first half for a high shooting percentage of 75 percent.
Jarin admitted though that Mapua gave the Red Lions scary moments after Darell Menina tied the game for the second time at 62-62, with 2:13 to go in the third period. But a quick 11-3 run by De la Cruz, Tongco and Micole Solera moved San Beda to a 73-65 lead going into the pivotal quarter.
De la Cruz scored a game-high 27 points, while Tankou and Tongco finished with 18 apiece plus 16 from Koga. Solera finished with 16 and Sara added another 16. Josan Nimes led the Cardinals with 23 points, Andretti Stevens and Nigerian 6’8 Allwell Oraeme scored 13 each plus 12 from Darell Menina.
In the second game, the Jose Rizal University Heavy Bombers clobbered last year’s runner-up Arellano University Chiefs,78-61, to join San Beda at the top of the standings.