SAN Beda proved why it is the best defensive team in the NCAA, making a crucial defensive stop in the endgame to nip Letran, 62-60, on Thursday night in Game One of the men’s basketball finals at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Holding on to a precarious two-point lead with less than 20 seconds remaining, Jake Pascual and Baser Amer put up a big defensive stand that forced Alas into a turnover as the Red Lions moved within a win of a third straight league championship and their sixth over the last seven seasons.
The Lions are also on the verge of a 17th title overall that would pull them past the Knights as the most successful team in the country’s oldest college league.
Finding himself double-teamed near the baseline with nowhere to go, Alas was forced into a weak pass which Pascual deflected into the waiting hands of Amer, preserving the huge victory.
Amer, the sophomore playmaker from Davao, also shone offensively, orchestrating the Lions’ offense with aplomb to come away with 20 points, six rebounds, and three assists.
“Number one is Baser,” Lions coach Ronnie Magsanoc said when asked about the keys to the victory. “But we also have to give credit to (Ryusei) Koga and Anjo (Caram) for their defense.”
The Lions’ two diminutive guards did a stellar defensive job on Alas, who was limited to three markers in the second half after firing 15 in the first 20 minutes.
The Red Lions, who dominated all season despite a major shake-up in the offseason following the two-year ban slapped on former coach Frankie Lim, gun for a sweep of the best-of-three finals on Saturday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
That final defensive stop preserved the heroics of Art dela Cruz and Koga, who kept the rallying Knights at bay in the final quarter of a game of wildly changing fortunes.
Dela Cruz made six points during the final stretch while Koga's three-pointer gave the Red Lions a five-point spread, 62-57, with a little over a minute left.
“Koga played exceptional basketball. Sometimes he gets his minutes, sometimes not. But every time he plays, he gives his best,” Magsanoc said.
The Knights held their biggest lead a 35-27 after a Kevin Racal jumper with six minutes and 21 seconds to go in the third, before Amer and substitute Koga conspired to gain the lead back for the Lions at the end of the third quarter.
San Beda (62) – Amer 20, Koga 9, Adeogun 8, J. Pascual 8, Dela Cruz 6, Dela Rosa 4, Caram 3, K. Pascual 2, Mendoza 2, Lim 0
Letran (60) – K. Alas 18, Racal 14, Cruz 11, Almazan 8, Belorio 7, Cortes 2, Lituania 0, J. Alas 0, Gabawan 0, Luib 0
Quarterscores: 18-12, 24-25, 47-41, 62-60