Letran College finally solved a massive problem that is Lyceum of the Philippines University following a 92-88 victory in the stepladder phase of Season 95 National Collegiate Athletic Association men’s basketball tournament last night at the Cuneta Astrodome.
Pint-sized Fran Yu stood tall while Larry Muyang chipped in significant numbers for the Knights, who made it to the finals for the first time since winning the title under coach Aldin Ayo in 2015.
The Knights will challenge mighty San Beda University, the reigning champion that has yet to drop a game this season, in the best-of-three finals.
Game 1 is set on Tuesday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Yu fired 20 points, eight rebounds and six assists while Muyang contributed 18 markers and nine rebounds on a sizzling 80 percent shooting form the field.
Jerrick Balanza, meanwhile, dropped 11 points and four rebounds for the Knights, who banked on the experience of their veterans.
“I give credit to the veterans. They never gave up and took us to the next level. It was a total team effort and determination,” Letran coach Bonnie Tan said.
With Yu orchestrating the offense and Balanza making his presence felt, the Knights uncorked a pivotal 15-2 run that turned a 69-70 deficit to a commanding 84-72 advantage in the final 5:26 to establish momentum and rip the game wide open.
Jaycee Marcelino scored 26 points while Mike Nzeusseu added 19 markers and 15 rebounds for the Pirates, whose string of finals appearances was snapped by the hungry Knights.
“Everyone wants to win so I was already expecting a higher level of physicality,” said skipper Balanza, who was looking to exact revenge on Lyceum that tormented them in a dramatic Final Four showdown last year.
Tan, the rookie mentor who is also a team manager of NorthPort in the Philippine Basketball Association, said now that they are already in the finals, they will go all out to shock the Red Lions.
“I want to give them something that they never had before,” he said.
“This is the most talented team I ever handled. I was surprised because we’re No. 3 in the eliminations and now we’re already in the finals.”
Meanwhile, Lyceum finished strong as it beat Sebastian College, 78-76, to punch the second finals ticket in the juniors division.
John Barba erupted for a career-high 36 points, thre rebounds and four assists while McLaude Guadamia flirted with a triple-double, registering 14 points 10 rebounds and eight assist for th Junior Pirates, who gained the right to face San Beda in the finals.