LETRAN, as overwhelming of a favorite as it is, still needed a knight in shining armor for its title retention bid.
RHENZ Abando, the much celebrated transferee from University of Santo Tomas who claimed the Season MVP and Rookie of the Year honors, was happy to be that gut as he anchored Letran to the NCAA Season 97 seniors basketball crown with a hard-fought 75-65 Game Two victory over Mapua on Sunday at Filoil Flying V Centre.
The 6-foot-2 high-flyer scored eight of his 14 points in the fourth quarter to go with 12 rebounds as the Knights completed their perfect 12-0 season.
Rhenz Abando delivers in the closing moments.
Pro-bound Jeo Ambohot finished his collegiate career with 13 points and nine boards and was crowned Finals MVP, while Louie Sangalang had 11 points, 13 rebounds, four assists, and three blocks to cap off his NCAA run with two rings.
It's a sweet repeat for Letran, the school's first repeat since 1998 and 1999 when Kerby Raymundo and Chris Calaguio were still roaming the halls of Muralla.
But it wasn't without incident, with the Knights losing grip of a 21-point third quarter lead, 44-23, with the hot-shooting Mapua team, behind Paolo Hernandez and Arvin Gamboa, getting to within six, 68-62, with 2:53 left.
That was when Abando took over, scoring six of the last seven points for Letran to cap off the 10-point win.
King Caralipio had nine points and six rebounds, Paolo Javillonar added eight points and seven boards, and Kurt Reyson had seven points and three rebounds.
"Of course, we're very happy. Mahirap itong pandemic na liga coming from more than two years na bakante. I don't know kung masasabi natin na mas masaya pero mas mahirap itong season na ito compared to last season," remarked coach Bonnie Tan who led the team to its second title in as many seasons.
Hernandez gave it his all and finished with 14 points, six rebounds, and five assists in the losing cause for Mapua.
Adrian Nocum added 14 points, five boards, and five steals, as Brian Lacap got 12 in the Cardinals' runner-up finish.
LETRAN 75 -- Abando 14, Ambohot 13, Sangalang 11, Caralipio 9, Javillonar 8, Reyson 7, Yu 6, Paraiso 3, Mina 3, Olivario 1, Fajarito 0.
MAPUA 65 -- Hernandez 14, Nocum 14, Lacap 12, Gamboa 10, Pido 7, Bonifacio 6, Mercado 2, Agustin 0, Asuncion 0, Garcia 0.
Quarters: 19-8, 39-23, 58-48, 75-65.
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