Donald Tankoua and JB Bahio of San Beda dispute the rebound against Jeo Ambohot and Larry Muyang of Letran in last Friday's thrilling contest.
Joey Mendoza
Lions, Knights go for kill in winner-take-all NCAA Finals Game 3
Joey Villar (Philstar.com) - November 18, 2019 - 3:51pm

Games Tuesday
(Mall of Asia Arena)
1 p.m. – San Beda vs LPU (Jrs)
4 p.m. – San Beda vs Letran (Srs)

MANILA, Philippines – Forget the stats and the numbers, edge in personnel, experience, momentum or luck. In a sudden death for one of the country’s most coveted collegiate crowns, it will all boil down to heart, poise and execution.

Down one game in the best-of-three series for the 95th NCAA diadem, San Beda showed a lot of heart and controlled Game Two, blew a huge lead but kept its composure and came up with clutch baskets and key stops to hack out a 79-76 thriller before a jam-packed crowd at the MOA Arena last Friday.

Letran did showcase its big fighting spirit too, rallying from a huge deficit and taking charge down the stretch. But Bon Bon Batiller failed to deliver a potential game-winner and a championship trophy for the Knights off a spectacular drive-and-draw play by Jerrick Balanza.

That tied the series at 1-1 with the deciding match, set at 4 p.m. Tuesday, also at the Pasay venue, tipped to go down the way it was in the first two games — tight, pressure-packed and unpredictable.

“We got lucky and survived Game Two and we will try to make the most of this second chance given us,” said San Beda coach Boyet Fernandez, whose wards looked headed to extending their dynastic reign to a fourth straight year for a 12th crown in the last 14 seasons and a league-best 23rd overall after sweeping their way straight to the finals only to be stunned by the fired-up Knights, 65-64, in Game One.

Truly, breaks had a hand in the Red Lions’ Game Two escape. Torched by the streak-shooting Fran Yu bridging the last two quarters, the defending champions got some reprieve as the Letran guard suffered cramps and failed to return after a game-high 23-point explosion.

But neither coach surely won’t pin their title hopes on good fortune alone with Fernandez hoping to draw the best from the likes of MVP Calvin Oftana, James Canlas, Clint Doliguez, Kemark Carino, Donald Tankoua and Damie Cuntapay and counterpart Bonnie Tan confident of a big fightback from the likes Larry Muyang, Jeo Ambohot, Balanza, Yu and of course Batiller.

“I will do everything to help my team win,” said the 23-year-old Oftana, who barreled his way and completed a crucial three-point play that shoved the Lions on top in the stretch.

Expect the Knights to likewise fight to the finish in pursuit of an 18th championship.

“We’ve moved on from what happened in Game Two and we’re now focused on winning the championship,” said Tan, whose gallant Knights also had appeared headed to sweeping their rivals in reverse after Yu rained down triples from all angles to power the team from 15 points down to a 66-59 lead in the fourth.

But the Lions showed their championship poise and didn’t panic and the Knights wobbled when it mattered most, leading to what promises to be a classic Game Three.

Frustrated, the 21-year-old Yu vowed to give it his all again.

“When I’m inside the court, I always give my 100 percent and more. And you can count on me that I will do the same in Game Three,” said Yu.

Meanwhile, San Beda and Lyceum of the Philippines University likewise go at it one final time for the juniors’ crown at 1 p.m.

KNIGHTS LETRAN LIONS NCAA SAN BEDA
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