LETRAN nearly squandered a 21-point lead before turning back Mapua, 80-77, on Friday at The Arena in San Juan to cap its first-round campaign in the 91st NCAA seniors basketball tournament on a high note.
Rey Nambatac scored 14 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter to spare the Knights blushes in a game that looked in the bag when they led, 48-28, after a run of seven unanswered points in the third period.
The Knights even trailed by seven early in the fourth period before regaining their bearings to finish the first round with an 8-1 (win-loss) record and atone for a shocking loss to Emilio Aguinaldo College last week.
Nambatac hit back-to-back three-pointers to put the Knights ahead, 72-70. The Letran junior hit another triple at the 2:31 mark before Mark Cruz practically sealed the win with another trey, 80-75.
“Grabe ang pressure,” said Letran coach Aldin Ayo. “Kagabi nga, hindi ako makatulog. I know this is a big game for us. After a loss, we have to win.”
Mapua began the fourth quarter with an 8-0 run to pull ahead, 67-60, but could not sustain the lead.
“That game was not pretty. But we will take the win. Kung meron man kaming mapapakinabangan dito, makikita doon ‘yung maturity ng mga bata and their competitiveness,” said Ayo.
Cruz had 16 points while Jerick Balanza added 11 points for the Knights.
Allwell Oraeme had 23 points and a season-high 28 rebounds for the Cardinals, who fell short of a bounce-back victory after losing an 18-point lead in the final three minutes against Jose Rizal University last Tuesday.
Mapua, which played the game without injured Josan Nimes and CJ Isit, dropped to 4-5.
Letran (80) — Nambatac 22, Cruz 16, Balanza 11, Luib 10, Racal 9, Quinto 8, Apreku 2, Sollano 2, Calvo 0, Balagasay 0.
Mapua (77) — Oraeme 23, Biteng 15, Que 13, Serrano 8, Nieles 7, Menina 6, Aguirre 3, Raflores 2, Stevens 0, Villasenor 0, Brana 0.
Quarterscores: 25-21, 53-38, 60-59, 80-77