Without banned coach, also-ran Letran Knights still too good for Lyceum Pirates
Letran's Chester Saldua is challenged by forward Joseph Gabayni. Jerome Ascano

AN undermanned Letran team still proved too good against Lyceum, waltzing to a 77-52 victory on Friday in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament at The Arena in San Juan.

Even without injured star forward Kevin Racal as well as suspended coach Caloy Garcia, the Knights hardly looked in disarray as they built an early lead and sustained it until the final buzzer in a no-bearing game.

Racal underwent surgery on Friday morning to repair a torn ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) in his knee that will sideline him for the next six months.

In the do-it-all forward's absence, Ford Ruaya and Mark Cruz stepped up for the Knights, who hiked their win-loss record to 8-9, while dealing the Pirates their 11th loss in 17 games.

“Ang naging motivation ko sa team is to finish the season strong,” said Knights assistant mentor Mike Buendia, who handled the reins in lieu of Garcia. “Hopefully madala naming ito sa last game namin.”

The Knights, who will miss the semifinals for the first time since 2010, try to play the spoilers’ role against Final Four contender College of St. Benilde in the final day of the regular season on Wednesday.

Ruaya, one of the Knights’ undersized power forwards in his final year, registered 19 points—all but of his total output in the first three quarters—seven boards, and one steal in just 20 minutes.

Cruz added 13 markers, including seven in the opening period, where the Knights went up by four, a cushion which grew to 15 points in the second half.

The Pirates’ loss put to naught another sterling effort by Joseph Gabayni, who churned out 17 points, 12 boards, three assists, one steal and one block.


The scores:

CSJL 77 – Ruaya 19, Cruz 13, Nambatac 8, Gabawan 8, Singontiko 7, Tambeling 6, Calvo 4, Luib 4, Castro 2, Saldua 2, Apreku 2, Publico 2, Quinto 0

LPU 52 – Gabayni 17, Taladua 14, Bulawan 9, Lesmoras 5, Mbida 3, Soliman 2, Elmejrab 2, Baltazar 0, Zamora 0, Malabanan 0, Maconocido 0

Quarterscores: 20-16, 32-26, 58-43, 77-52

Follow the writer on Twitter: @KarloSacamos