Knights ride high atop standings after outduelling Bombers in OT thriller
Letran point guard Mark Cruz tries to keep control of the ball as he loses his footing. Dante Peralta

LETRAN survived another close encounter, overcoming Jose Rizal University in a hard-fought 69-66 overtime win to remain unbeaten in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament at The Arena in San Juan.

Making good on their promise to give the Heavy Bombers a dose of their own medicine, the Knights overhauled a late deficit by coming up with key defensive stops and converting their charities late in regulation and in the extra period to gain the solo lead in the standings.

“We’re still trying to adjust on our offense, but the nice thing today is we played good defense,” Knights coach Caloy Garcia said. “And the players, they never gave up.”

While they allowed Paolo Pontejos to score 20 points, the Knights limited Bombers gunner Philip Paniamogan to just seven points on 3-of-12 shooting.

Stymied by the Bombers’ defense, the Knights still trailed most of the way in a low-scoring, physical affair that saw six cagers foul out.

Raymond Almazan, though, delivered as usual, while drawing significant contributions from Kevin Racal, Jami Gabawan, and Ford Ruaya to defeat the Bombers.

Despite being hobbled by early foul trouble, the towering Almazan produced 12 points and 13 rebounds with two blocks, while Racal, still recovering from an offseason injury, also registered a double-double of 11 points and 10 boards.

“Medyo na-frustrate ako, pero nung third and fourth, kinausap naman ako ni coach na we need you inside and Jojo (Belorio), sabi niya focus ako sa game," Almazan said. "Nakikinig naman ako, kahit sino, kahit rookie sabihan ako, nakikinig ako.” 

Gabawan and Ruaya continued to step up in the absence of injured skipper Belorio as both big men combined for 19 points and 15 rebounds.

The Bombers dropped to a 1-2 win-loss card.

The scores:

Letran (69) – Almazan 12, Gabawan 11, Racal 11, Ruaya 8, Cruz 7, Buenaflor 7, Dysam 5, Nambatac 4, Tambeling 2, Publico 2, Luib 0

Jose Rizal (66) – Pontejos 20, Paniamogan 7, Balagtas 7, Mabulac 7, Juanico 6, Sanchez 6, Lasquety 4, Dela Paz 4, Abanto 2, Benavides 2, Gozum 1, Salaveria 0, Grospe 0

Quarterscores: 6-8, 20-29, 39-46, 60-60, 69-66

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