The Letran Knights inched closer to capping off a perfect season with a championship as they edged the Mapua Cardinals, 68-63, in Game One of the NCAA Season 97 men’s basketball finals on Sunday at the Filoil Flying V Center in San Juan.
Trailing for most of the game and playing without MVP frontrunner Rhenz Abando who hurt his ankle in the third canto, the Knights found the resolve to rally and eventually nab the lead, 63-62, after a floater by Jeo Ambohot with less than a minute left in the game.
Then, after stopping Mapua on the other end, Louie Sangalang got fouled and split his free-throws for a 64-62 advantage. Another fantastic defensive stand by Letran then led to a basket by Brent Paraiso which came off a gorgeous pass by Fran Yu, which gave the Knights a 66-62 lead with just 15.3 ticks remaining in the match.
“Again, di na-give up yung mga players natin kahit na wala si Rhenz Abando. Very off kami sa three-point area, so ang ginawa namin talagang we decided to attack the shaded lane,” said Letran coach Bonnie Tan. “In the end nasuklian kasi na-foul out yung bigs nila.”
Paraiso led Letran with 14 points, five rebounds, and five assists, while Sangalang added 14 markers, seven boards, and two blocked shots.
Abando finished with 13 points and seven rebounds before exiting the game with a sprained ankle with 3:20 left in the third. His status for Game Two remains uncertain.
It was a sorry loss for Mapua, which led by as much as 10 points in the first half. They also held a 62-58 lead with 3:18 remaining in the game before Letran amped up their defense and finished the game with a 10-1 run.
Warren Bonifacio led the Cardinals with 10 points, 14 rebounds and two blocks.