COLLEGE of St. Benilde finally put an end to its early run of futility in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament with a blowout 85-71 victory over Letran on Monday at The Arena in San Juan.
Showing the spunk that was absent in their last three games, the Blazers were surprisingly in the driver’s seat most of the game before seeing the Knights put on a late comeback that they failed to sustain.
Paolo Taha best typified the Blazers’ energy, pumping in 24 points, eight boards, and three assists as his teamed notched a first victory in four games, leaving Mapua (0-5) as the only winless team in Season 90.
By winning their first game after four starts, the Blazers also switched places with the hapless Knights, who slid to ninth spot after suffering a fourth loss in five games.
The Knights were without head coach Caloy Garcia, who was serving a one-game suspension for getting ejected after picking up technical fouls in their match against Jose Rizal University.
But more than that, the Knights are still struggling to adjust in life after Raymond Almazan, who has moved to the pros after powering the Intramuros-based squad in its improbable Finals run last season.
Taha keyed thei Blazers’ breakaway in the third quarter where the fourth-year forward fired 12 points, including two free throws with less than three minutes left that gave his team its biggest lead at 64-41.
But it was fellow forwards Jonathan Grey and Raphael Nayve who provided the spark in the final frame and put the final nail in the coffin after the Knights cut the deficit to just single digits, 59-70 with a little over two minutes gone by.
“The hustle was there, that’s why we had that lead,” Blazers coach Gabby Velasco said. “Unfortunately, if not for that big lead, it would’ve been close again sa end.”
Mark Cruz, who was suddenly available after his one-game suspension for his role in an altercation in the game against JRU was downgraded to a stern warning, spearheaded the Knights’ rally that fell short.
CSB 85 – Taha 24, Romero 12, Grey 11, Saavedra 10, Nayve 8, Jonson 7, Bartolo 6, Altamirano 3, Pajarillaga 2, Sinco 2, Ongteco 0
CSJL 71 – Cruz 16, Nambatac 10, Gabawan 10, Racal 10, Ruaya 9, Publico 6, Castro 5, Quinto 3, Luib 2, Calvo 0, Saldua 0, Tambeling 0, Singontiko 0
Quarterscores: 15-15, 42-31, 65-51, 85-71