Letran moved on the cusp of clinching its second straight crown with a 68-63 victory over Intramuros rival Mapua in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament Sunday at the Filoil Flying V Centre.
Playing catch-up for most of the game, the Knights unloaded a 10-1 finishing run in the final 3:10 to secure the 1-0 lead in the best-of-three series.
Unbeaten in 11 matches, Letran goes for the jugular in Game 2 at 3 p.m. on Sunday at the San Juan arena.
Inexperience hit the Cardinals, as they could not nail the needed baskets coupled by the Knights’ tough defense down the stretch.
Despite the psychological advantage, Letran knows the capability of Mapua to bounce back.
“We have to keep on improving. Kapag close game, breaks of the game iyon. Either team can win, kung sino ang may gusto,” said coach Bonnie Tan.
“Hindi nag-give up mga players namin kahit na wala si Rhenz Abando,” he added.
Abando went down with a left foot injury after a highlight putback dunk with 3:20 left in the third period while Letran was trailing 45-47.
Abando still finished with 13 points and seven rebounds for the Knights.
Brent Paraiso and Mark Sangalang shared the scoring mantle for Letran with 14 points.
The Knights, who defeated the Cardinals by 20 in their only meeting this season, never led in the first half and trailed by as much as 10, 19-29, early in the second period.
Toby Agustin capped the Cardinals’ scintillating first period with a buzzer-beating lay-up for a 24-15 lead.
Mapua lost Jasper Salenga, who was ejected at the 1:49 mark due to two unsportsmanlike fouls.
Warren Bonifacio had 10 points and 14 rebounds while Arvin Gamboa also had 10 points for the Cardinals.