San Beda College sent a stern warning to all its rivals on Sunday in the 88th NCAA men’s basketball tournament: taking the title away from the Lions won’t be easy.
The defending champion Lions made a statement as they stunned Arellano University, 81-71, with only six players at The Arena in San Juan.
With most of their players suspended, the Lions turned to the unheralded group of Yvan Ludovice, Arthur dela Cruz, Ritchie Villaruz, Francis Abarcar, Dave Moralde, and Jun Bonsubre, who proved enough to lift the Lions to their first victory of the tournament.
“It was all about heart,” said a calm Lions mentor Ronnie Magsanoc, who certainly impressed in his coaching debut in the league. “I have never seen something like that,” he added.
Ludovice, a third-string point guard, played the game of his life as he registered 18 points, five rebounds, and four assists without rest to lead the Lions.
Dela Cruz was similarly spectacular, scoring 18 points and 14 boards in 35 minutes. Villaruz hit four triples on his way to 17 points on top of eight boards. Abarcar and Moralde also scored in double figures for San Beda, tallying 16, and 12 points, respectively.
Bonsubre failed to score in 20 minutes, but he did a solid job on the defensive end of the court.
“They seized the opportunity and they were extremely rewarded,” Magsanoc said.
The Lions were well aware they were the heavy underdogs against the Chiefs as they entered the game with low expectations.
“Our goal was just to narrow the gap, makadikit lang until the third,” Magsanoc admitted.
The favored Chiefs seemed poised to pull away from the Lions when they jumpstarted to a 24-12 cushion with less than three minutes in the first quarter.
But the Lions roared back and trailed by just two, 44-42, at the half.
“Kala ko tatambakan na kami nung umpisa pero we made the necessary stops,” Magsanoc said.
SBC finally turned the game around in the second half as it built its biggest lead, 58-46, after a Moralde floater with 2:07 to play in the quarter.
But the Lions’ manpower woes were even compounded after Bonsubre fouled out with still 7:19 left to play in the fourth, leaving them with just five players.
“Kinabahan ako nung na-foul out si Jun,” Magsanoc said.
The Chiefs momentarily took advantage, being able cut the deficit to just five, 73-68, after a Levi Hernandez basket. But the Lions hung on.
Rocky Acidre and Nard Pinto paced Arellano with 16 points apiece.
If the Lions could win with six men, what more can they do when they’re complete?
Rome dela Rosa, Jake Pascual, Anjo Caram, Baser Amer, Kyle Pascual, Jaypee Mendoza, Ryusei Koga, and Melo Lim will be back against Lyceum on July 2, while Nigerian import Ola Adeogun comes back two games later.
SBC 81 – Ludovice 18, Dela Cruz 18, Villaruz 17, Abarcar 16, Moralde 12, Bonsubre 0
AU 71 – Acidre 16, Pinto 16, Hernandez 15, Malanday 16, Salcedo 4, Bangga 4, Zulueta 2, Cadavis 0, Lunas 0, Valera 0, Espiras 0
Quarterscores: 21-28, 42-44, 63-54, 81-71