The chants from the Letran gallery at The Arena in San Juan perfectly summed up the Knights’ new-found status in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament on Thursday.
Only five days removed from a tragedy that befell one of their teammates, the Knights rolled to their sixth straight victory and remained the only unbeaten team in the league following a 67-57 decision of Arellano.
Mark Cruz, one of the league’s shortest players at 5-5, stood tallest with his fine playmaking and torrid shooting, while Raymond Almazan continued to impose his 6-foot-7 presence as both stalwarts led the Knights, who are off to their best start since 2008 when they also won their first six games.
The 5-foot-5 Cruz fired a season-high 25 points built on five triples as the starting point guard played heavy minutes in the absence of back-up Franz Dysam, who’s probably out for the season after sustaining gunshot wounds in an unfortunate incident last Saturday that led to the death of his partner, Joan Sordan.
“Itong game na ‘to for Franz Dysam talaga. Inaalay ko sa kanya ‘tong game na ‘to,” Cruz said.
Knights coach Caloy Garcia, however, is refusing to think too much about Dysam’s tragedy.
“Syempre ayaw din naming masyado isipin. It’s a tragedy. We just have to look forward and move on. We just hope Franz can come back as soon as possible, kahit nakaupo lang siya sa bench.”
Almazan hauled down 17 boards and tallied five of his seven points in the fourth quarter where the Knights withstood the Chiefs’ stand.
While it was one of the rare times Almazan, an MVP candidate, missed a double-double, it was the opposite for Kevin Racal, who registered 14 points and 12 boards along with three assists and two steals as the veteran forward continued to recover from a foot injury that caused him to miss the whole summer.
The Chiefs lost for the fourth time in six games while playing without star forward James Forrester, who aggravated a partially torn meniscus he sustained in the preseason.
The Chiefs, though, found a new dependable offensive contributor in substitute guard Donald Gumaru, the only double-digit scorer with 10 points.
Letran (67) – Cruz 25, Racal 14, Nambatac 9, Almazan 7, Gabawan 4, Castro 2, Ruaya 2, Tambeling 2, Belorio 2, Po 0, Luib 0, Olotu 0, Buenaflor 0, Publico 0
Arellano (57) – Gumaru 10, Nicholls 9, Hernandez 8, Caperal 8, Pinto 7, Salcedo 5, Enriquez 4, Jalalon 2, Agovida 2, Margallo 2, Bangga 0, Cadavis 0
Quarterscores: 22-16, 34-33, 53-42, 67-57