LIKE an executive that just sealed a major deal, Koy Banal wore a dress shirt, tie and a sheepish smile when he met the press on Saturday.
“Ganito pala ang feeling dito,” the Arellano University coach said after the Chiefs finally made it to the win column with a 77-67 upset of Letran in the 88th NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
It has been six years since Banal was last interviewed as a winning NCAA coach when he steered San Beda College to the title.
It was prolonged after he lost his first three games for the Chiefs this season. But when he finally made his way inside, he was relieved more than anything.
“Parang sa daan, nalampasan namin ang malaking hump,” he said. “I hope we’re going to have a smoother ride from here.”
The Chiefs’ rocky ride started when they shockingly lost to six-man San Beda College, then followed by defeats to Lyceum and Jose Rizal University.
“Everything has a purpose,” Banal said. “It toughened us.”
A tougher and more determined Chiefs squad showed up against the Knights.
Filipino-Canadian rookie James Forrester had a double-double of 18 points and 11 rebounds, while big man John Bangga added 13 points and five boards for the Chiefs, who took advantage of the Knights’ depleted frontline.
“I’m thankful nag-deliver na rin sila,” Banal said.
Already without 6-foot-7 center Raymond Almazan who had a fever, the Knights’ frontline woes were compounded when their other dependable big men Jam Cortes and Jonathan Belorio were ejected in the middle quarters.
The Chiefs led by double digits but that was cut to two after a Mark Cruz teardrop with three minutes and 11 seconds to go that made it 66-64.
Arellano then scored 11 unanswered points to seal the deal for Banal.
Kevin Alas led the Knights with 22 points, six assists, and five boards, but his all-around performance went for naught as the squad dropped to 1-2.
ARELLANO 77 – Forrester 18, Bangga 13, Cadavis 11, Pinto 10, Acidre 9, Zulueta 7, Caperal 5, Salcedo 2, Valera 2, Hernandez 0.
LETRAN 67 – Alas Ke. 22, Racal 15, Cruz 12, Alas Kr. 8, Belorio 5, Lituania 2, Cortes 2, Cudal 1, Olotu 0, Pantin 0, Luib 0.
Quarterscores: 21-17; 39-28; 60-51; 77-67.