SHOWING the nerves and poise of a champion, San Beda leaned on a hot start and an even better finish to frustrate NCAA finals first-timer Arellano, 74-66, in the opener of their best-of-three series at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Baser Amer and Ola Adeogun came through in the clutch for the Lions, who scored the first 11 points of the ballgame, built a cushion that grew to as many as 15 points, before proving steady down the stretch in the face of a fightback by the Chiefs.
“We’re happy we won, but there’s nothing to celebrate yet,” Lions coach Boyet Fernandez said. “I just challenged my boys and I’m glad they responded.”
The Lions can seal their fifth straight title, eighth in the last nine years, and a record 19th overall crown on Wednesday also at the MOA Arena at 1:30 p.m.
For a while, though, the Chiefs, showed why they deserve to be in the Finals, rallying from two huge double-digit deficits, first climbing a 11-26 hole with a 20-5 run to knot the count, then threatening in the payoff period.
Jioviani Jalalon sparked the comeback, scoring four straight points off steals to pull the Chiefs within 56-61 with a little over six minutes remaining in the game, but the spitfire guard fouled out a possession later.
Digging deep from their vast well of championship experience, the Lions never wavered and built another lead that kept their opponents at bay.
Amer fired a game-high 17 points, including a left-wing dagger of a triple that gave the Lions a 72-59 lead and took the fight out of the Chiefs with 1:10 left.
The Lions proved why they are the league’s best defensive team, limiting the Chiefs to just 34-percent shooting from the field.
The Chiefs’ free-throw shooting woes also did them in as they made just 12 of 25 charities for a horrendous 48 percent.
SBC 74 – Amer 17, A. Semerad 14, Adeogun 14, Dela Cruz 13, Pascual 7, Sara 5, Koga 2, Mendoza 2, Cabanag 0, Mocon 0, D. Semerad 0, Tongco 0
AU 66 – Agovida 14, Holts 11, Jalalon 9, Bangga 9, Pinto 6, Gumaru 5, Salcedo 4, Ciriacruz 4, Nicholls 2, Enriquez 2, Hernandez 0, Palma 0, Caperal 0, Cadavis 0
Quarterscores: 26-17, 40-31, 59-48, 74-66