LETRAN delivered when it mattered as it avoided the upset axe in scoring a 77-70 victory over Mapua on Saturday in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament at The Arena in San Juan.
The Knights found an unlikely spark from seldom-used guard John Von Jovi Tambeling, who scored 10 of his career-high 13 points in a late salvo that enabled Letran to pull away.
The Knights rolled to their ninth victory in 10 games to cement their place atop the standings, while dealing the cellar-dwelling Cardinals their eighth successive loss and ninth overall against a lone win.
Top MVP candidate Raymond Almazan and Kevin Racal delivered as usual for the Knights.
Racal put up his best all-around game of the season with 23 points, 10 boards, five assists, and two steals, while Almazan finished with another double-double of 16 points and 13 boards with three blocks and two assists.
The Cardinals flirted with an upset for the first three quarters before the Knights buckled down to work in the payoff period where they pulled away behind Tambeling, who keyed a 13-0 run bridging the last two quarters.
Tambeling, the lefty rookie from Misamis Oriental, gave the Knights the lead for good at 58-56 after a layup with two seconds left in the third quarter, before scoring eight more in the final canto, capped by a triple that made it 67-56 for Letran.
Tambeling, however, was ejected in the next play, committing an above-the-shoulder foul by hitting Darrel Magsigay with an elbow to the face with a little over seven minutes to go.
“Anybody can step up and Von was the guy today,” Knights coach Caloy Garcia said. “He showed up in the third (and fourth) quarter and gave us a cushion. Sayang lang na-thrown out siya. I think he could’ve done more than what he produced.”
CSJL (77) – Racal 23, Almazan 16, Tambeling 13, Cruz 6, Ruaya 4, Nambatac 4, Buenaflor 4, Gabawan 3, Castro 2, Belorio 2, Po 0, Luib 0, Olotu 0, Publico 0.
MIT (70) – Ighalo 19, Braña 15, Eriobu 13, Biteng 7, Magsigay 6, Gabo 4, Isit 3, Layug 2, Cantos 1, Gonzalez 0, Estrella 0.