LETRAN answered every San Beda basket with a bigger shot of its own to take a 94-90 victory in Game One of the NCAA Season 91 Finals on Friday night at the packed Mall of Asia Arena.
Kevin Racal highlighted a 28-point, five-rebound, five-assist, two-steal performance with a big follow-up basket down stretch in a thrilling shootout between two teams that simply refused to lose.
The Knights can end their 10-year title drought and the Red Lions’ dynastic run of five successive championships with another win in Game Two on Tuesday, also at the MoA Arena.
Letran backer Manny Pacquiao witnessed a classic game that saw a fiery three-point shooting display by both teams. In the end, it was the Knights who prevailed with Racal hitting the crucial shots down the stretch.
Rey Nambatac scored 18 points including the basket that settled the final score. Mark Cruz had 17 points on 4-of-7 shooting from threes while McJour Luib scored 11 of his 16 points in the first half.
Both teams combined for 23 triples in the game including nine in the fourth quarter alone.
“We are expecting this kind of game,” said Letran coach Aldin Ayo, who is on the verge of winning an NCAA title in his rookie year. “We know it’s going to be a tough game and it’s going to be a dogfight. We just have to be tough and grab this opportunity because not all players are given this opportunity.”
A jubilant Ayo let out a roar as the Knights moved closer to their first title since 2005.
“I don’t want to feel (the pressure) in Game Two,” Ayo said. “For the past days, naka-focus talaga ako sa larong ‘to.”
Ola Adeogun had 23 points and 16 rebounds but committed a costly turnover with the Red Lions down by just three, 87-90. Cruz sealed the win with two free throws following the turnover with 14 seconds left to play, 92-87.
An 8-0 run by the Knights gave them a 54-48 lead in the third quarter, but they found themselves down by one at the end of the period, 62-61, following Adeogun’s baskets inside.
Letran started out strong in the final quarter with five straight points including a triple by Cruz that started the shootout between the longtime rivals.
Still, Letran had to earn the win with Racal hitting two free throws and a crucial putback that made it 89-85.
Dan Sara and Ryusei Koga had 10 points each but veterans Art Dela Cruz and Baser Amer combined for only 15 points in the game for San Beda.
The Red Lions are now in an unlikely spot of being down 0-1 in the series.
Letran (94) — Racal 28, Nambatac 18, Cruz 17, Luib 16, Sollano 9, Quinto 4, Balagasay 2, Apreku 0, Balanza 0, Calvo 0.
San Beda (90) —Adeogun 23, Koga 10, Sara 10, Soberano 9, Amer 8, Tankoua 8, Dela Cruz 7, Tongco 5, Mocon 4, Sorela 4, Presbitero 2, Cabanag 0, Reyes 0, Bonsubre 0, Sedillo 0.
Quarterscores: 22-21, 39-41, 61-62, 94-90.