LETRAN moved to within a win shy of quenching a decade-long thirst for a title, coming up with big plays in the endgame to get past the defending champion San Beda Red Lions, 94-90, Friday night in Game 1 of their best-of-three finals series at the Mall of Asia Arena.
With ring icon Manny Pacquiao watching and supporting from the bench, Mark Cruz scored three of four charities in the last 14.4 seconds, before Kevin Racal drove in 10 seconds later to put the Knights a win away from their first crown since 2005 in the 91st National Collegiate Athletic Association men’s basketball tournament.
Racal shot a game-high 28 points for the Knights, including a driving shot in the last four seconds to peg the final tally after Red Lion Roldan Sara banged in a triple in the last 10.8 seconds that put the champs to within 90-92.
Rey Nambatac drilled in 18 points, while Cruz hit 17, with his three charities finding their mark in the last 14 seconds and allowing Letran to take a five-point edge, 92-87.
Olaide Adeogun tallied 23 points for the Red Lions, including two freebies in the last 26.1 seconds that kept San Beda within range, 87-89.
The Knights, who last won the crown in 2005 against the Philippine Christian University Dolphins, have a chance to snatch the crown from the Red Lions if they sweep the series on Tuesday.
“We expected this kind of game. I know it will be a tough game. We know it will be a dogfight. Sabi ko sa mga players, ‘We just have to be tough. We just have to grab this opportunity because not all players and coaches are given this kind of opportunity,’” said Letran coach Aldin Ayo.
Back-to-back triples from Nambatc in the last 5:38 handed Letran a five-point cushion, 80-75.
Meanwhile, Mapua’s big man Allwell Oraeme capped a huge season as he cornered three major awards yesterday in the awards ceremonies before Game 1 of the Finals between San Beda College and Letran.
Oraeme, who led the Cardinals from the cellar early in the first round to the Final Four, was named as the Most Valuable Player, Rookie of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year.
In earning MVP honors, Oraeme led all players in the statistical race with 69.67 points, beating San Beda’s Art dela Cruz, who had 60.67 by a wide margin.
He beat Perpetual Bright Akhuetie for top rookie honors, and edged San Sebastian’s Bradwyn Guinto for the Defensive Player of the Year honors.
Oraeme became the third player to receive an MVP and ROY award as the same time.
Two players did it before when Sam Ekwe of San Beda got it both in 2006, and Gabby Espinas of PCU took it in 2004.
Oraeme finished the season with a league-best averages of 20.28 rebounds and 2.94 blocks per game. He placed seventh in the league in scoring with 16.33 points per outing.
The last time a cager won three major awards was in 2010 courtesy of San Beda’s Sudan Daniel.
Oraeme and Dela Cruz were later by Perpetual Help’s Scottie Thompson and Akhuetie and Arellano’s Jiovani Jalalon in the Mythical Five.
Michael Calisaan of San Sebastian was named Most Improved Player, beating out Tey Teodoro of Jose Rizal University for the honor.
Thompson placed third with 57.72 PAV while Jalalon and Akhuetie had 55.67 and 52, respectively.
Oraeme finished the season sith league-best averages of 20.28 rebounds and 2.94 blocks per game. He was also seventh in the league in scoring with 16.33 points per outing.
In the junior side, Michael Enriquez of Mapua took MVP honors, earning it after La Salle Greenhills’ Ricci Rivero was disqualified after getting thrown out of their game with Perpetual Help in the first round.
Arellano’s Lars Sunga is the Rookie of the Year, while EAC’s Mau Cruz was named the most improved player.
Meanwhile, Evan Nelle topscored with 16 points while Albert Bordeos added 12 as defending champion San Beda Red Cubs turned back the Arellano University Braves, 76-68, in Game 1 of the junior division finals.
The win gave the the Red Cubs the eadstart in the showdown with the Braves, who need to beat San Beda thrice to wrest the crown.
Coming off a three-week layoff, the Red Cubs quickly took charge with their running game, establishing an 18-13 lead in the first period.
Bordeos and Robi Nayve combined for eight points to help the Red Cubs take a five-point edge in the first 10 minutes.
In the second period, a triple from Pedro Alfaro gave them a 32-25 edge.
The Red Cubs stayed in control in the third period, as Nelle buried a trey at the halfway mark of the quarter for a 49-41 spread, and were still up. 64-55, in the 5:30 mark in the fourth on Sam Abuhijle’s drive.
“Talagang pinush namin iyung style of play namin. Ganun talaga, We won two whole rounds sa game namin. So, hindi na namin binago,” said Red Cubs coach JB Sison.
(Game 2 at the MOA Arena)
2 p.m. San Beda vs Arellano (jrs)
4 p.m. San Beda vs Letran (srs)