Hot-starting Letran Knights stun San Beda as Adeogun benched for missing practice
Pint-sized playmaker Mark Cruz stands tallest anew for the Knights as they post their biggest win of the season. Dante Peralta

IT seems San Beda really does bring out the best in Letran.

Playing way better than their record suggests, the Knights stunned their archrival Red Lions, 64-53, on Wednesday at The Arena in San Juan to end their first-round campaign in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament on a bright note.

The Knights caught the defending champion Lions off guard as they zoomed to an early double-digit lead which they never relinquished en route to only their third victory in nine games to jump two places up to seventh in a three-way tie Emilio Aguinaldo College and San Sebastian.

The Knights also dealt their victims just their second loss in the same span. Although the Lions remain on top, they allowed Arellano to gain a share of the lead.

“It’s all about the players playing hard,” Knights coach Caloy Garcia said. “Hopefully this will give us confidence heading into the second round.”

Mark Cruz spearheaded the inspired attack, scattering 15 points, five rebounds, and three assists for the Knights, who took advantage of the absence of Ola Adeogun.

The Nigeran slotman was benched—not due to foul trouble—but for disciplinary reasons after missing practice for three days. He only showed up in training the day before the rematch of the last two Finals.

Adeogun’s punishment also came a few days after he reacted on social media over being snubbed in the All-Star game this Saturday.

With Adeogun absent, the Knights had the luxury to endure an off game from do-it-all forward Kevin Racal, who wound up with just two points on 1-of-9 shooting in 34 minutes, although he did have seven boards, two assists, and one steal.

The Knights clicked on both ends of the floor from the get-go, limiting the all-Filipino Lions to just six points in the first quarter and maintaining a sizeable cushion that ballooned to 23 points, 54-31, early in the fourth quarter.

The Lions tried to make a last push, but suffered a blow when star playmaker Baser Amer went out with a contusion following a collision with a Letran defender.

The Knights actually shot just 29 percent from the field, but had more free-throw conversions, 28-13, than their foes.


The scores:

CSJL 64 – Cruz 17, Nambatac 9, Gabawan 9, Publico 7, Ruaya 6, Tambeling 6, Singontiko 5, Dela Pena 2, Racal 2, Quinto 1, Calvo 0, Castro 0, Saldua 0, Luib 0, Apreku 0

SBC 53 – Dela Cruz 16, Mendoza 11, A. Semerad 6, D. Semerad 5, Sara 4, Pascual 4, Amer 3, Cabanag 2, Sorela 2, Koga 0, Mocon 0, Abude 0, Abatayo 0, Tongco 0


Quarterscores: 16-6, 33-13, 49-29, 64-53 

Follow the writer on Twitter: @KarloSacamos