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Balanza comes through as Letran nips San Beda to win NCAA 95 title

by Niel Victor Masoy, November 19, 2019 7:18pm

Jerrick Balanza rose to the occasion and powered Colegio de San Juan de Letran (CSJL) to an 81-79 win over San Beda University (SBU) in Game Three of the Finals to clinch the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) season 95 Men’s basketball tournament title Tuesday at the Mall of Asia Arena.

Balanza proved to be the saving grace the Knights needed when the Red Lions roared back and got within a point, 71-70, following a Calvin Oftana inside incursion with 4:50 left in regulation.

The 6-foot-1 graduating guard drilled a pair of free throws to stretch Letran’s lead to three points, 73-70, before Ato Ular completed a three-point play for a 76-70 Knights advantage at the 2:06 mark.

Clint Doliguez pulled the Red Lions within three points, 76-73, as he drained a booming trey with 1:50 remaining. But there came Balanza again, responding with a cold-blooded triple for a six-point, 79-73 Letran buffer at the 1:29 mark. 

Botched possessions then ensued for both teams which ultimately led to Fran Yu making a couple of freebies for a five-point, 81-76 Knights advantage with 15.9 ticks to go. Still, the Red Lions roared once more as Evan Nelle hit a deep three-point bomb to pull San Beda within two points, 81-79, at the 11.5-second mark.

The Red Lions then forced a jump ball between Oftana and Fran Yu in the ensuing play, and got the ball back due to the possession arrow pointing towards their court. That left San Beda one last chance to tie or take the lead with still 5.4 seconds remaining.

Nelle opted to go for the win as he launched a top of the key trey, but Balanza rose once more to save the day for Letran, blocking Nelle’s attempt for the win.

“Alam natin mahirap (talunini ang San Beda) pero again walang imposible sinasabi ko sa mga players, stay postive continue the momentum,” said Letran head coach Bonnie Tan.

“Isa lang masasabi ko, sobrang bait ni God talagang lugmok na lugmok na ko nung time na yun wala akong ginawa kiundi maniwlawa sa kanya,” said Balanza, recalling the time when he had a brain surgery that forced him to sit out the latter part of the NCAA season 94.

“Sobrang sarap ng pakiramdam na mapasalamatan ko yung Letran community sa panalo na to,” added the 6-foot-1 guard.

Balanza finished with 27 points, seven rebounds, and three assists, while Bonbon Batiller atoned for his Game Two blunder and unloaded 19 points, five boards, and three assists.

Ato Ular cashed in nine markers and nine caroms as Fran Yu - hailed as the Finals Most Valuable Player (MVP) - put up eight points, seven assists, five boards, and three steals.

San Beda raced to a 14-7 lead following a Kenmark Carino triple midway through the first quarter. From there, however, Letran dictated the game.

With a determined duo of Balanza and Batiller, the Knights settled for a 26-24 advantage at the half and a six-point, 44-38 at the half.

Letran then dominated San Beda in the third quarter as Balanza, Batiller took turns in making timely shots that kept the Red Lions at bay. King Caralapio gave the Knights their biggest lead of 13 points, 69-56 with 25 seconds left in the third quarter.

Still, San Beda never crumbled and got within a point, 71-70, following a Calvin Oftana inside incursion at the 4:50 mark. However, that only setup the Balanza’s heroics as Letran seized its first title since 2015 before the boisterous 19,876 fans at the Arena.

 

The scores:

Letran 81 - Balanza 27, Batiller 19, Ular 9, Yu 8, Muyang 6, Caralipio 4, Ambohot 2, Balagasay 0, Olivario 0, Javillonar 0, Sangalang 0.

San Beda 79 - Tankoua 22, Oftana 18, Kwekuteye 11, Nelle 11, Doliguez 11, Carino 3, Soberano 3, Bahio 0, Abuda 0, Visser 0.

Quarters: 26-24, 44-38, 69-59, 81-79.

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