Knights outlast Blazers in 'battle of durability' to take Game 1

Joey Villar - Philstar.com
Knights outlast Blazers in 'battle of durability' to take Game 1
Louie Sangalang delivered a game of his life on the biggest of stages and unleashed a career-high 24 points for Letran.

Games Sunday
(Smart Araneta Coliseum)

3 p.m. – Letran vs CSB

MANILA, Philippines – Letran knew it would need to have the toughest of hearts to beat College St. Benilde. It was, however, won by the team with the stoutest of bodies.

The Knights emerged victorious in a battle of durability as they smashed the injury-saddled Blazers, 71-65, on Sunday to move on cusp of a three-peat feat in NCAA Season 98 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

The magnificent boys from Muralla in Intramuros roughed up their eager but inexperienced counterparts from Taft in the first half, survived a third-quarter scare and then watched the latter’s top guns fall like dominoes to various injuries.

That was the chance Letran needed as it quickly pounced on a decimated CSB side to retake control and seize a one game to nothing lead in this short best-of-three series.

The Knights would have two chances to wrap it all up if they could repeat their masterful performance in Game Two on Sunday also at the Big Dome, or, if necessary, in the decider on Dec. 18 at the Ynares Center in mountaintop Antipolo City.

If Letran ends up hoisting the trophy, it will claim its 20th NCAA championship, which would put it closer to archrival San Beda, which owns the most number of seniors crowns in the country's oldest collegiate league with 22.

Louie Sangalang delivered a game of his life on the biggest of stages and unleashed a career-high 24 points as he scored all but one of the 11 shots he attempted and topped it with 10 rebounds, two assists, a steal and a block before he hobbled most of the final quarter due to cramps.

While Sangalang limped, CSB had it worst as it was left with just one of their top guys in the crucial stretch of the match as MVP leader Will Gozum, Migz Corteza and Robbie Nayve all succumbed to cramps.

It didn’t help that CSB’s top gunner Migz Oczon tweaked an ankle at the start of the game and never returned.

Kurt Reyson fiested on these moments and fired 14 points, the bulk of which came in the final canto.

Skipper Fran Yu made up for a horrible shooting day by coming through with key plays late while canning a pair of foul shots that hammered in the final nail on the Blazers’ coffin.

But in the end, it was Sangalang who shone the brightest.

“I’m playing to win the championship,” said the 24-year-old Sangalang, who wants to cap his strong collegiate career with another championship before he turns pro.

There were some anxious moments though in the first half after officials called three unsportsmanlike fouls including one from Letran Kobe Monje for elbowing CSB's Macoy Marcos on the nape that resulted to the former's ejection.

When order was restored in the third period, CSB went on a vicious run that saw it seizing the lead and momentum.

But the unfortunate happened as fatigue caught up with the tired and weary Blazers, who fought their way to claim the top seeding with a 14-4 record and eliminated a powerhouse San Beda squad in the Final Four only disintegrate in the end.

The scores:

Letran 81 – Sangalang 24, Caralipio 16, Reyson 13, Paraiso 9, Yu 7, Javillonar 5, Olivario 4, Santos 2, Go 1, Tolentino 0, Monje 0, Ariar 0.

CSB 75 – Gozum 18, Corteza 18, Sangco 10, Nayve 9, Marcos 7, Pasturan 4, Oczon 3, Cullar 2, Carlos 2, Lepalam 2, Flores 0, Sumabat 0.

Quarterscores: 25-21, 52-50, 66-67, 81-75

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