San Beda started Season 88 with aplomb. And the Red Lions fittingly finished it with a flourish.
Saving its best for last, San Beda College simply outclassed host Letran with a methodical 67-39 victory Friday noon to complete a ‘three-peat’ and become the winningest school in the NCAA men’s basketball championships at the jampacked Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
The Red Lions, who pulled off a 62-60 squeaker in the series opener last Oct. 18, stumbled to a 55-64 defeat in Game 2 last Saturday but they showed up locked and loaded collectively from the get-go en route to their sixth title in the last seven years.
More importantly, San Beda also seized the lead in overall men’s cage title haul, clinching a league-record 17th while giving coach Ronnie Magsanoc a resounding feat right in his first year at helm.
“Sila ang bayani (his players). All I did was guide them and make sure their on the right track. Everybody had a hand in this title run,” stated Magsanoc, who took over the coaching reins from Frankie Lim in the aftermath of an ugly brawl last December involving San Beda cagers and the San Sebastian volleyball team.
Graduating playmaker Anjo Caram capped his five-year stint with a game-high 17 points while crafty guard Baser Amer and senior forward Jake Pascual combined for 24 points as the Red Lions quickly turned what was expected a tight game into a lopsided affair.
“They (Letran) made it difficult for us. Eventually, it all boiled down to the desire of the boys and composure and I think courage. They played without fear. It was the battlecry of the team,” added Magsanoc, who also suited up for the Red Cubs before taking his talents to the University of the Philippines in the UAAP.
“We made the necessary match-up adjustments to be able to contain the offense of Letran. Defense kasi we were able to limit them to zero percent threes. Today, we were able to shut them down. It’s all about making defensive stops. If you look at our lineup, wala naman kami big-time scorers like they have. We had to rely on our defensive intensity to create offense for everyone.”
And it was all about throwing a suffocating defensive blanket throughout.
Inserted into the starting line-up, Amer and Nigerian import Ola Adeogun promptly made their presence felt and dictated the tempo early, helping the Red Lions to jump the gun at the stunned Knights with an 18-10 cushion.
Trailing 11-28, the Knights clustered six straight points but Pascual and Ryusei Koga teamed up in the Red Lions’ 6-0 counterattack that preserved San Beda’s lead at 34-17 at the break.
With diminutive Mark Cruz presiding over their offensive plays, Letran pulled within 23-34 but that proved the closest the Knights could get as San Beda uncorked a crippling 16-2 onslaught bridging the third and fourth cantos for a whopping 50-25 lead.
As the Knights visibly looked demoralized, the Red Lions continued to pour it on, dropping another jarring 12-6 attack–capped by a Caram triple off the glass–for an insurmountable 62-31 cushion as the relatively pro-San Beda crowd of 18, 187 fans started to celebrate with still 3:28 to remaining.
The lopsided win provided the fitting finale on the Red Lions’ improbable journey this season.
Despite playing with just six players in its opening game against a complete Arellano University crew last June 24, San Beda pulled off a resounding 81-71 decision that served as a springboard for another remarkable title run.
“Gusto ko bilisan yung relo (heading into fourth). You can never be sure of the outcome until the final buzzer. Medyo napangiti na lang ako nung mga last four minutes na at hindi pa rin bumaba lamang. Hanggang sa dulo, the boys were playing hard on defense,” Magsanoc added.
Although they failed to go all the way, the Knights can hold their heads high as they bucked a rocky start with a near-flawless run in the homestretch of the eliminations then overhauled a twice-to-beat disadvantage against favored San Sebastian Stags in the Final Four.
Cruz tallied 12 points while ace guard Kevin Alas endured a horrendous outing of 11 points for the Knights, who will lose veteran center Jam Cortes to graduation.
Meanwhile, the 5-foot-10 Amer, who exploded for 20 points in the series opener, was named the Finals MVP.
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