SAN Beda is back in a familiar position, at least for now.
The three-time defending champion grabbed the provisional lead in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament following a 71-64 victory over Emilio Aguinaldo College on Saturday at The Arena in San Juan.
The Lions banked on another strong start, bucked a temporary letup, before brandishing their killer instinct when it mattered to eventually notch a 10th victory in 12 games that put them a half-game ahead of archrival Letran.
“It’s nice that we’re in number one, but we’re not thinking about it that much,” said Lions mentor Boyet Fernandez, who swept his head-to-head coaching matchup with former PBA teammate and fellow point guard Gerry Esplana.
“What’s important is we get one of the top two spots at the end of the eliminations,” Fernandez added about the prospect of finishing in the Top 2, which stakes a twice-to-beat advantage heading into the Final Four.
The Generals dropped to a 5-7 win-loss card in a tie with College of St. Benilde.
Art dela Cruz once again stood at the forefront of the Lions’ onslaught, registering a double-double of 16 points and 12 boards that went with four assists and one block.
Staring at a two-point halftime deficit after coming flat in the second quarter following a strong start, the Lions turned it up a notch in the second half and built a double-digit cushion heading into the final canto.
The Generals threatened and came to within 54-60 after a Jorem Morada basket halfway through the quarter, before the Lions, behind the timely triples of Ryusei Koga and inside forays of Ola Adeogun, regained their bearings and their double-digit lead.
San Beda (71) -- Dela Cruz 16, Amer 15, Koga 13, Adeogun 12, Dela Rosa 6, Mendoza 4, D. Semerad 2, A. Semerad 2, Abarcar 1, Villaruz 0, Pascual 0, Ludovice 0.
Emilio Aguinaldo (64) -- Happi 17, Morada 14, Jamon 13, Tayongtong 9, Paguia 9, Arquero 2, Monteclaro 0, Hiole Manga 0, King 0, Munsayac 0, Onwubere 0.
Quarterscores: 22-14; 31-33; 58-46; 71-64.