ART de la Cruz scored back-to-back baskets in the crucial stretch as San Beda College Red Lions beat Letran Knights, 60-56, notching their fourth straight and 18th championship crown on Saturday in the 89th National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) men’s basketball tournament at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.
De La Cruz’ twin baskets provided the needed impetus when the Knights’ refused to bow down posting, 55-44, with only 1:48 remaining. The 6’8 Nigerian Olaide Adeogun did his part by dominating the paint stopping Kevin Racal’s drive in the last 8.6 seconds of the game.
The 21-year-old De la Cruz of Bulacan, who finished with 20 points on top of 15 rebounds and three assists was named Most Valuable Player (MVP) while coach Boyet Fernandez was hailed Coach of the Year. Fernandez joined a distinct group that includes Ato Agustin and Ronnie Magsanoc, who’ve won a championship in their rookie year.
“When we were down by six points in the first half. I really shouted at 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 all 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 big run by the Red Lions tied the score for the last time, 39-39, with only 3:36 left in the third quarter.
“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. This is a very tough challenge for me, even harder than the PBA. But the way the boys played, it’s very satisfying. I hope we can go further especially in the next season,” added Fernandez, whose Red Lions won Game One, 80-68, but lost Game Two, 74-79.
The trouble of pro-bound 6’7 Raymond Almazan crippled the Knights. He committed his fourth foul with still 3:46 remaining in the third quarter while Cruz suffered cramps in the crucial moments when Letran reduced the gap to only one point, 56-57, with only 51 seconds left.
Besides De la Cruz, the Red Lions also depended on Adeogun (17 points), Baser Amer (six points), Rome de la Rosa (six points) and Kyle Pascual (four points).
Almazan led the Knights with 14 points, Cruz and Rey Nambatac contributed 10 points each and Ford Ruaya nine.