With the most titles in NCAA history, Letran knows that it’s biggest edge over College of St. Benilde in the Season 98 Finals of the men’s basketball championship is its experience.
On Sunday, the Knights gave the Blazers a taste of what it feels like to play on this stage, and the experience of something that they could take to be better at or to sulk in.
Letran peeled away when it needed to in the stretch to carve out an 81-75 Game 1 win over St. Benilde, a side that openly said wanted to play the Knights when the stakes are at their highest at Smart Araneta Coliseum.
“Before the start of the series, someone asked us what our advantage is against CSB. For one, experience, because we’ve been playing for championships before,” Letran coach Bonnie Tan said.
“The composure of the veterans is what we had. That’s experience right there,” Tan added after his Knights, from a 70-69 edge early in the fourth, played their cards right in a wild endgame to earn a shot at closing out the best-of-three series Sunday also at the fabled Big Dome.
Kurt Reyson and King Caralipio were huge when the Knights opened up a six-point lead entering the final five minutes, before Fran Yu hit two free throws for a 79-73 lead with 23 seconds remaining.
“I just told my players that there will be no way for us to beat Benilde with offense alone,” Tan explained. “They know that we need to play defense.”
Louie Sangalang finished with a career-high 24 points to go along with 10 rebounds to lead the Knights, who also drew 16 and 13 points, respectively, from Caralipio and Reyson.
The Knights are trying to win this for the second time this year—somewhat of a weird accomplishment since the season was moved from last year because of COVID-19—and for the third straight edition.
Will Gozum, the hot choice to win the Most Valuable Player award, scattered 18 points that went with 11 rebounds in leading Benilde. Miggy Corteza also accounted for 18 points, counting consecutive baskets that shoved the Blazers within 76-73.
But the Blazers were effectively shut down from there, something which they can address and be better at come Sunday.
It’s that kind of experience that Letran has and the Knights have continued learning from all these years. INQ
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.