SAN Beda simply refused to wilt under pressure in the most important game of the season, eking out a thrilling 60-56 victory over Letran in their winner-take-all game Saturday, to maintain its rich winning tradition in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
The Red Lions bagged their fourth straight title, seventh in the last eight years, and 18th overall as they sustained their status as the most successful team in the country’s oldest collegiate league.
“What a ride,” said Lions coach Boyet Fernandez, who took over Ronnie Magsanoc this year and steered a powerhouse team to another triumph in a relatively smooth journey just marred by the “larong labas” controversy involving guard Ryusei Koga.
Art dela Cruz shone brightest on offense, providing the key baskets, mostly on an array of patented turnaround floaters, throughout the game en route to tallying 20 points, 16 boards, and three assists to emerge as the Finals MVP.
Ola Adeogun, on the other hand, delivered at the other end, as the Nigerian slotman came up with the most important defensive gem in the stretch when he blocked Kevin Racal’s potential game-tying floater with 8.6 seconds left that send the pro-San Beda crowd at the jampacked Mall of Asia Arena in wild frenzy.
After attempting only twice in the Lions’ 74-79 Game Two loss, Adeogun was more aggressive in the deciding game, coming up with 13 attempts to finish with 17 points, 13 boards, and four blocks.
“I just challenged him,” Fernandez said of Adeogun. “And he came out like a lion. And Art will always be there. Parang siyang libero ko sa volleyball. Kailangan ko talaga siya. He’s my secret weapon. If he plays bad, we’re dead.”
Unlike in last year’s Game Three when they succumbed to a one-sided 39-67 defeat, the Knights put up a worthy challenge this time.
Rookies Rey Nambatac and Ford Ruaya stepped up in Game 3 as they showed maturity beyond their years following their timely conversions.
Down by two, 56-58, the Knights had a chance for a game-tying basket when Racal stole the inbound pass of Rome dela Rosa.
But the Lions got back the possession when Dela Cruz intercepted the ball, which led to two free throws by Adeogun for the marginal basket.
“They gave us a good fight, but in the end, we just made the plays,” Dela Cruz said.
League MVP Raymond Almazan registered 14 points, 11 boards, and four blocks, but was a non-factor in major portions of the second half after incurring his fourth foul with still 3:46 to go in the third quarter and the Knights still ahead, 39-37.
San Beda (60) -- Dela Cruz 20, Adeogun 17, Amer 6, Dela Rosa 6, Pascual 4, Abarcar 2, A. Semerad 2, Ludovice 2, Sara 1, D. Semerad 0.
Letran (56) -- Almazan 14, Cruz 10, Nambatac 10, Ruaya 9, Racal 7, Belorio 4, Luib 2, Castro 0, Po 0, Tambeling 0, Buenaflor 0, Gabawan 0.
Quarterscores: 14-7; 24-30; 45-43; 60-56.