LETRAN survived a third quarter collapse to nip San Sebastian, 80-74, and opened its campaign in the 88th season of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament on a high note Saturday night at the Araneta Coliseum.
The Knights squandered a 13-point lead when the Stags outscored them in the third period, 24-11, and found themselves trailing, 50-53, entering the final quarter.
But behind star player Kevin Alas, the host school held its composure, and rattled off its own scoring binge, 22-9, to regain back the upperhand, 72-62. Jam Cortes capped the run with a lay-up in the final three minutes that sealed the deal for the Knights
Alas torched the Stags for a career-high 31 points and won his scoring duel against San Sebastian’s Ian Sangalang, who had 24.
“It was a team effort,” said Letran coach Louie Alas, obviously downplaying the one-man wrecking job done by his prolific son.
The elder Alas added he didn’t push the panic button at the height of the Stags’ third-quarter explosion, stressing, “I wanted them to learn from their mistakes on their own.”
Jonathan Belorio and Mark Cruz added 14 and 10 points, respectively, for Letran.
Vengeance was somehow served as the Knights beat the same team that eliminated them in the Final Four last season.
Sangalang added 14 rebounds for San Sebastian, which also got solid contributions from Calvin Abueva who finished with 18 points and 17 rebounds. The reigning league MVP however, fouled out with over two minutes left in the game.
Ronald Pascual, the other member of the Stags’ dreaded Big Three, played for the first time after an ACL injury sidelined him for the past seven months. He was a non-factor for San Sebastian however, struggling in his comeback game by going scoreless in 22 minutes.
“It would’ve been a lot harder (for us to win) kung maganda laro ni Ronald,” Alas said.
Seldom-used Bobby Balucanag scored 11 points in 13 minutes, but somehow derailed the Stags’ momentum after committing an unsportsmanlike foul on Alas, allowing the Letran star to convert three straight charities.
An elaborate opening ceremony conceptualized by host Letran ushered in the new season of the country’s oldest collegiate league.
Letran (80) -- Alas Ke. 31, Belorio 14, Cruz 10, Racal 9, Cortes 8, Almazan 6, Lituania 2, Alas Kr. 0, Gabawan 0, Pantin 0, Luib 0
San Sebastian (74) -- Sangalang 24, Abueva 18, Dela Cruz 11, Balucanag 11, Antipuesto 4, Juico 2, Miranda 2, Rebollos 2, Pascual 0, Binuya 0, Maiquez 0
Quarterscores: 14-13, 39-29, 50-53, 80-74