WILL GOZUM showed he’s the league MVP by imposing his will and dropping 21 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks. — PHILIPPINE STAR/ JUN MENDOZA

COLLEGE of St. Benilde (CSB) responded to coach Charles Tiu’s repeated pleas to play tough as it showed incredible grit lacking last time and humbled and tamed a once mighty Letran, 76-71, yesterday in forcing a deciding Game Three in NCAA Season 98 at the Ynares Center.

It took a couple of spectacular efforts by Will Gozum and Miggy Corteza to help the Blazers knot the count at one game apiece and arrange a knockout duel for all the marbles next week at the Ynares Center in Antipolo.

Mr. Gozum showed he’s the league MVP by imposing his will and dropping 21 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks while Mr. Corteza played the game of his life and erupted for 14 of his 21 points in that massive third-quarter offensive that saw CSB seizing the lead and momentum.

Migz Oczon, who tweaked his ankle that forced him out in an 81-75 Game One loss a week ago, suited up today despite missing practice the whole week and scattered 15 points that he highlighted with that dagger of a jumper late.

In the end though, it was matching Letran’s physicality that spelled the biggest difference.

“We’ve been talking about it the whole week and kept on asking them to be mentally tough,” said Mr. Tiu. “In our hearts, they beat us three times but we still believe we can win.”

“It’s about time we stood up for ourselves and I’m glad we matched their physicality,” he added.

The win was CSB’s first finals triumph since the title clincher — a 74-61 win — against San Sebastian 22 years ago that secured the former its breakthrough crown.

And in a week, a second could be coming.

The Knights played minus Kobe Monje and Kyle Tolentino, who served out their one-game suspension for their misdemeanor in the opener and a tamed Paolo Javillonar, who wasn’t suspended but was warned against his shenanigan for touching Mr. Gozum’s behind.

It didn’t help that Letran skipper Fran Yu couldn’t control his emotion and was ejected for elbowing CSB’s Mark Sangco in the head in the second quarter.

It was a double black eye for the wily Yu as Letran lost the game and he is expected to receive suspension for that Game Three of their lives.

Worst, Mr. Yu could end his stellar career with that forgettable moment where he just lost concentration.

For Mr. Corteza, he came into the game with mission and left everything on the floor in that unforgettable third-quarter stretch where he just went on attack mode that got CSB out of trouble while jumping straight to the driver’s seat.

“I told my self before the game I’m going to empty the gas tank today (yesterday) and give everything,” said the meek, soft-spoken power forward. — Joey Villar

The Scores:

CSB 76 — Gozum 21, Corteza 21, Oczon 15, Nayve 10, Pasturan 3, Sangco 3, Carlos 3, Cullar 0, Marcos 0, Davis 0, Lepalam 0, Flores 0, Lim 0.

Letran 71 — Paraiso 16, Sangalang 11, Reyson 11, Caralipio 9, Yu 6, Santos 6, Javillonar 5, Olivario 4, Ariar 3, Guarino 0, Go 0.

Quarterscores: 20-23, 34-45, 64-59, 76-71