SOMEHOW, it was relief more than grief.
Letran coach Caloy Garcia stuck to the positives after the Knights’ 80-66 loss on Thursday to University of Perpetual Help, their first defeat in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
“I just told the players at least the pressure of being undefeated now is over,” Garcia said. “Now we just have to look forward and try to remain in the top two spots until the end of the eliminations.”
The loss allowed archrival and defending champion San Beda to grab a piece of the top spot.
Still, the Knights flunked their first real acid test as they saw themselves fall into a huge hole which they never recovered from.
“We just played bad in the beginning and Perpetual played with lots of heart and they were determined to beat us today,” said Garcia, who saw his wards trail by 22 points after allowing the Altas to score 31 points in the first quarter.
“It’s part of basketball. There will be games that you’re gonna come out flat,” added Garcia, who still drew solid showings from leading MVP candidate Raymond Almazan and Kevin Racal, the only two players who scored in double figures for them.
Almazan finished with a team-high 15 points along with 17 boards, while Racal chipped in 10 points on top of 11 boards.
Mark Cruz, who had averaged 23.5 points in his last two games, could only muster six points in 24 minutes. Rey Nambatac was also on the wrong end of his rookie matchup with Juneric Baloria, scoring only five points on 2-of-8 shooting.
The Knights did gain valuable contribution from bench players Ford Ruaya, Von Tambeling, and Fidel Castro, who conspired to lead a fightback that was always negated by a booming triple.
“It so happens na lahat ng rally namin biglang tumitira ng three points yung kalaban,” Garcia said.
“It’s just one game, Garcia added. “You can go eighteen-and-zero then lose. It hurts more. It’s better to learn from your mistakes earlier than the end.”