The Letran Knights did what no other team has done this season in Game 1. They dealt the San Beda Red Lions their first loss in Season 95. They came close to winning it all in Game 2 but faltered in the end. In Game 3, the Knights finished the with an 81-79 win. They dethroned the Red Lions and reclaimed the NCAA Championship.
Jerrick Balanza showed out in the biggest game of the season. The team captain dug deep and produced 27 big points built on five triples. Bonbon Batiller made up for a big miss in Game 2 with 19 points. Ato Ular had nine points and nine rebounds while Fran Yu scored eight and dished out seven dimes. Donald Tankoua scored 22 points and grabbed seven boards to led San Beda.
The Knights began to pull away from the Red Lions in the end of the second period. Ular hit a banking jumper and Allen Mina followed it up with a buzzer-beating corner triple, closing the period with five straight points. That turned a one-point lead into a six-point spread.
The Letran defense combined with Balanza and Batiller’s production in the third period led to a 13-point lead late in the quarter. They were able to hold on to a 10-point lead as the game shifted to the pivotal final period.
The Red Lions made a run midway through the fourth period. Behind the inside presence of Tankoua, San Beda scored seven straight points, four from the big man to cut the deficit down to just three. The lead stayed at that level heading to the final two minutes of the game. With the game on the line Balanza came up big for Letran. He nailed a long three-pointer from the left win off a pass by Batiller to put the Knights up by six with less than 90 seconds left in the game.
The Red Lions refused to quick. Evan Nelle drilled two triples, sandwiching two freebies from Letran to cut the lead down to just two points. The Red Lions’ defense then forced a jump ball, giving them one last chance to tie or win the game with five seconds left. But Letran’s defense wouldn’t let them get a shot off. Balanza blanketed Nelle’s attempt in the perimeter forcing the guard into an awkward pass. Tankoua bobbled the ball into a paint of defenders as time ran out. The Knights celebrated their return to the top.
Yu was named the Finals MVP. He averaged 13 points, three rebounds and six assists in the three-game stretch.