By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
DOWN 0-1 in the best-of-three National Collegiate Athletic Association Season 95 final series, the defending champions San Beda Red Lions go for a bounce-back win in Game Two today at the Mall of Asia Arena to keep their reign alive and force the series to a sudden-death match.
Challenged greatly by the Letran Knights in the series opener on Nov. 12, the Lions just could not make the necessary plays down the stretch to slump to the narrow 65-64 defeat and fall behind in the series.
San Beda coach Boyet Fernandez lamented the missed opportunity in Game One but is not completely down on his team, believing that his wards have what it takes to rebound and get their title defense back on track.
“The players just have to believe in themselves. This team is very young and this is the finals. Having a perfect slate in the eliminations may have caught up with them. This serves as a lesson for us,” said Mr. Fernandez, whose team nearly sat out for a month after completing a sweep of the elimination round.
Guard Evan Nelle top-scored for the Lions with 20 points but only had one assist, considerably down from his 6.7 dimes average in the tournament.
James Canlas and season most valuable player Calvin Oftana had 11 points each while foreign student athlete Donald Tankoua had seven points and 13 rebounds.
As a team, San Beda shot only 30.2% from the floor in Game One, and just 15% from beyond the arc.
For Letran, while it is happy with the win and going ahead in the series, it knows too well than celebrating early, vowing to continue to work to complete its championship goal and be in a place it has not been in since Season 91.
“We are happy with the win. But it’s not yet over. Hopefully the players would not feel overconfident after this win and continue to work hard for us to achieve our championship goal,” said Letran coach Bonnie Tan after their Game One victory.
Graduating guard Bonbon Batiller led the Knights in Game One with 12 points with fellow veterans Jerrick Balanza and Fran Yu adding 10 points each.
Big men Jeo Ambohot and Larry Muyang, meanwhile, had nine and seven points, respectively.
San Beda is looking for NCAA title number 23, and 11th in the last 13 years, while Letran is seeking its 18th title.