San Beda College and Letran College bested their respective foes in the Final Four on Tuesday at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City to arrange a duel in the championship round of the National Collegiate Athletic Association Season 91 men’s basketball tournament.
Reigning champion San Beda College Red Lions controlled the rhythm of the game during the second half en route to a 78-68 win over the Jose Rizal University (JRU) Heavy Bombers.
“To God to be the glory. I’m thankful to what happened this season,” said San Beda coach Jamike Jarin during the post game interview. “Credit goes to coach Vergel [Meneses] for building JRU’s good program.”
Point guard Amer Baser and Roldan Sara posted 11 points apiece while Amiel Soberano and Pierre Tankoua added 10 points each for the Red Lions.
Tankoua also notched 10 rebounds.
Marco Balagtas finished with 14 points and six rebounds to lead JRU.
In the first game, the Letran Knights escaped the Mapua Cardinals with a slim 91-90 victory.
The last time Letran entered the finals was in 2013 but lost the championship to San Beda.
The Knights fought the determined Cardinals who managed to grab the lead at the start of fourth quarter (70-67). But Kevin Racal and Mark Cruz scored the crucial points to seal the win for Letran.
“My respect goes to Mapua for not giving up even in the last seconds of the game. If they beat us, it is going to be tough to play them in a do-or-die game. It is good to beat them now,” Letran coach Aldin Ayo told The Manila Times in an interview.
“We can focus now on championship and we really want to win it. We are not satisfied if we’re not going to capture this year’s crown,” he added. “Mapua really motivated us to win and they provoked us to work hard.”
Racal posted nine of his 19 points in the fourth quarter plus 12 rebounds and three steals while Cruz finished with 24 points plus six assists and six rebounds.
Jomari Sollano added 16 points, Rey Nambatac had 12 points plus 11 rebounds, and Kier Quinto contributed 10 points also for the Knights.
Letran was leading 91-87 after Cruz scored two free throws in the dying seconds. CJ Isit scored a three-pointer, but it was too late to save Mapua.
“I’m still proud of my players because nobody expected us to qualify in the Final Four,” said Mapua coach Atoy Co. “Next year, I will concentrate more on the conditioning of my players.”
Exeqiel Biteng led Mapua with 17 points, while Josan Nimes and Darell Menina had 15 points each.
Nigerian Allwell Oraeme scored 10 points plus 25 rebounds, four assists and six blocks for the Cardinals.
Game 1 of the best-of-three finals is set on Friday at 4 p.m.