Knights end Lions NCAA reign with classic OT win

MANILA, Philippines -- Unheralded Jomari Sollano became the unlikely hero as the Letran Knights finally ended the San Beda Red Lions' five-year reign in the NCAA with a gut-wrenching 85-82 win in overtime on Thursday before before a record crowd of 20,158 at the Mall of Asia Arena. 

Sollano finished with a career-high 19 points including the marginal basket and a split at the line while pro-bound Mark Cruz atoned for his missed three-pointer at the end of regulation by sealing the Knights' first championship in 10 years with a crucial free throw. 

"I hope you enjoyed the whole season. Para sa inyo ito. Tama na ang sakit. Tayo naman," said a triumphant rookie head coach Aldin Ayo, who was part of the Letran team that won back-to-back titles at the turn of the century.

A rookie coach and team that lost its best players to the pros, they were overlooked at the start of the season but defied all odds as the All-Filipino Knights won the school's first championship since 2005 and their 17th banner. 

After pulling off a shocker in Game One, the Lions roared back in Game Two. The two rivals, with storied winning traditions in the league, needed three nerve-wracking games to decide who will be the Season 91 champion. 

It was a classic finish that needed an extra time with San Beda refusing to just roll over and die. 

Just as when the Knights were poised to wrap it up in the regulation, the Lions clawed their way back drawing from their vast championship experience.

After Kevin Racal and Cruz hit back-to-back three-pointers that opened up an eight-point lead, 75-67, Baser Amer led a San Beda 8-0 windup to force overtime.  It was also Amer who gave the Lions their last lead in the tightly-fought contest with a floater to make it 82-81 in the final 45 seconds.  

But the Knights were not to be denied.

Sollano came out of nowhere to steal the thunder from his more celebrated teammates hitting a big jumper from the corner with 32.6 seconds left to put Letran back on top.  

Ayo then tactically pulled out the smaller Cruz as the Knights were able to foil two offensive plays by the Lions.  

Sollano completed his heroics with a split at the line as double lane violation was called on his second free throw attempt that went the Knights' way.    

Cruz, who was named the Finals MVP, hit the clinching free throw with three seconds left as he will head to the PBA along with Racal as champions. 

The diminutive Cruz had 14 points while Racal came out red-hot as he wound up with 23 in their final game to remember in the NCAA. 

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