LETRAN advanced to the NCAA Season 91 men’s basketball finals, hitting big baskets late in the game and holding off Mapua, 91-90, on Tuesday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Mark Cruz scored 24 points as the Knights, including a huge basket that gave Letran an 87-83 lead with 1:31 left in the fourth quarter.
Down 85-88, the Cardinals could not hit the most important shots, notably the three-point attempt by Exi Biteng that would have tied the game.
The shot was almost halfway in before rolling out, putting an end to a dream run by the Cardinals who transformed from a cellar-dweller to the No. 3 seeds in the Final Four playoffs.
Kevin Racal hit two free throws on the next play for a 90-85 lead with 31 seconds left.
“Nobody expected us to be here,” said Letran coach Aldin Ayo, who reached the finals right in his rookie year. “Pero I huddled the team after our alma mater song and I told them, masaya tayo. But we will still a job to do.”
Racal finished with 19 points and 12 rebounds while Rey Nambatac also had a double-double of 12 points and 11 rebounds for Letran, which will face the winner of the other Final Four pairing between top seed San Beda and No. 4 Jose Rizal University.
Letran went on a 8-0 run to surge ahead, 79-76, with Cruz scoring a tough left-handed lay-up over Allwell Oraeme to keep the momentum going.
The Cardinals’ last stand came when they tied the game at 81 but the Knights answered with a Racal a layup and two JP Calvo free throws with two minutes left in the game for an 85-81 lead.
CJ Isit finally buried a triple late in the game to trim the gap to one point, 91-90, but it came too late with only 0.5 seconds left in the clock.
Biteng led the Cardinals with 17 points on 5-of-10 shooting from three-point land. His triple to end the third gave the Cardinals a 70-67 Mapua lead.
Josan Nimes had 15 points in his final game as a Cardinal while Oraeme had 10 points and a game-high 25 rebounds.
Letran (91) — Cruz 24, Racal 19, Sollano 16, Nambatac 12, Quinto 10, Calvo 4, Apreku 3, Luib 3, Balanza 0, Publico 0.
Mapua (90) — Biteng 17, Nimes 15, Menina 15, Isit 11, Oraeme 10, Nieles 10, Serrano 10, Brana 2, Aguirre 0.
Quarterscores: 21-17, 45-42, 67-70, 91-90.