SAN Beda turned on the heat with a ruthless defense to blow Letran out of the court, 67-39, in a do-or-die match on Friday and make NCAA history with their 17th league championship.
Silent for most of the week while a controversy raged over what Letran had perceived as spotty officiating, the Red Lions made the noise inside the Smart Araneta Coliseum floor with one unanswered basket after another in one of the most lopsided finales in league history.
But more than anything else, it was an unforgiving defense that held the Knights to the lowest points total in a finals game that got the job done as the Red Lions put away their second hat-trick of titles over the last seven years and their 17th overall - one more than Letran on the all-time list.
"In the end, it was all about the players making it happen on the court. It was all about them," Ronnie Magsanoc, who kept mum while Letran counterpart Louie Alas got embroiled in a dispute with officials over officiating, said after crowning his first stint as a head coach in a major league with a championship.
So outclassed were the Knights in the deciding game of the best-of-three finals that they did not get past the lowest points total in a game this season, set by Jose Rizal University in the eliminations, until they made a basket in the final seconds which the Lions did not even bother to contest.
The match turned out to be the last for Letran for Alas, who announced after the game that he was leaving a team he had led to three league championships and five finals appearances.
Seniors Anjo Caram and Jake Pascual put a fitting end to their careers with the Lions, who started the season in disarray after a brawl with San Sebastian's volleyball team led to suspensions for former head coach Frankie Lim and most of their key players.
“Sobrang sarap nitong championship na ito kasi ang dami naming pinagdaanan,” said the 21-year-old Caram.
Caram scored a game- and season-high of 17 points to go five boards, and two assists, while Pascual fell short of a double-double after tallying 10 points and nine boards, on top of three steals and two assists.
Baser Amer also came up with another solid performance to end up as the Finals MVP.
Unlike in the last two Finals where they swept the San Sebastian Stags, the Lions had to go through a decider this season after surrendering to their relentless rivals in Game Two, 64-55, last Saturday.
But they undoubtedly showed more desire in the decider than the Knights, who last won a title seven years ago.
“Letran was a very tough team. They were hungry. They have a very good coach. And they made it difficult for us,” Magsanoc said. “But eventually, it all boiled down to the desire of the boys and composure and courage. They played without fear.
"It was the battlecry of the team.”
It was also exactly three decades ago when Magsanoc won his first title as a player while suiting up for San Beda’s junior’s team, the Red Cubs.
After jumping out to an eight-point first-quarter lead, the Lions widened the gap to 17 points at halftime.
The Knights cut the deficit to 23-34 after a Jam Cortes bucket early in the third. But the Lions were just too much from then on as they established another sizeable lead, this time reaching more than 30, 62-31, after a Caram triple with three minutes and 28 seconds remaining.
Cruz and Kevin Alas carried the scoring load for Letran, but they drew little support.
Jonathan Belorio and Carlo Lituania, Letran’s supposed shock troopers, failed to reprise their roles in Game Two as they were held scoreless in the decider.
“We made the necessary matchup adjustments to be able to contain the offense of Letran. We were also able to limit them to zero percent threes. We were really able to shut them down,” Magsanoc said as Cruz, Belorio, and Lituania, who had six triples among them in Game Two, did not make a singly conversion from three-point distance.
San Beda (67) – Caram 17, Amer 14, J. Pascual 10, Adeogun 6, Dela Rosa 5, Koga 4, K. Pascual 4, Mendoza 2, Abarcar 2, Ludovice 2, Dela Cruz 1, Bonsubre 0, Lim 0, Villaruz 0, Moralde 0
Letran (39) – Cruz 12, K. Alas 11, Cortes 6, Racal 3, Almazan 3, J. Alas 2, Almario 2, Belorio 0, Lituania 0, Gabawan 0, Luib 0, Cudal 0
Quarterscores: 18-10, 34-17, 45-25, 67-39