MANILA, Philippines – Defending champion San Beda University is in uncharted waters ahead of Game 2 of the NCAA Season 95 men's basketball finals.
For the first time in the tournament, the Red Lions find themselves needing to bounce back from a defeat, after succumbing to a 65-64 loss to archrival Colegio de San Juan de Letran in Game 1 last Tuesday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
It was the first time in Season 95 that the Red Lions had dropped a game, after winning all 18 of their games in the elimination round. The defeat, which came after a 27-day break, put San Beda on the brink of losing the NCAA title.
"I know that everybody's down. I know everybody's sad that we lost this game," said San Beda head coach Boyet Fernandez, who is trying to steer the Red Lions to a fourth consecutive men's basketball crown.
"But like what I've said, Letran had just beat us once, and they still have to beat us one more time in order to win the championship," he pointed out.
The Red Lions will try to prevent that from happening on Friday, when they take on the Knights in Game 2 of the finals at the Mall of Asia Arena.
The Knights leaned on clutch plays by Jerrick Balanza and Fran Yu to pull off the win, and their zone defense flustered San Beda to 6-of-40 shooting from beyond the arc. Point guard Evan Nelle had 20 points but only one assist, and league MVP Calvin Oftana went 5-of-12 from the field for 11 points.
Oftana also missed a potential go-ahead three-pointer in the closing seconds of the game. As a team, San Beda shot just 30.23% from the field – a far cry from their 44.7% shooting in the elimination round.
"We we all know that this team is very young. And, it's the finals, and probably, the euphoria of being in the finals, and having an 18-0 in the elimination really caught them," Fernandez said of his squad.
"This serves as a lesson to us," he added.
The Knights, meanwhile, are brimming with confidence after piercing San Beda's aura of invincibility. The Red Lions had not lost since August 2018, and had won 32 straight games before Tuesday's defeat.
With momentum on their side, the Knights are out to sweep the series and claim their first NCAA title since 2015. Back then, a Letran team coached by Aldin Ayo stunned San Beda in a three-game series, denying their rivals a six-peat.
"We have the momentum going to the game, mas lalo ngayon nakuha namin 'yung Game 1," said Letran coach Bonnie Tan, whose team won back-to-back knockout games against San Sebastian College and Lyceum of the Philippines University to set up the title showdown against San Beda.
"Sana, 'di na pakawalan ng mga players," he added. "Sila naman naglalaro. Kung gusto nila, kunin nila."
"We're here to guide lang and to motivate them. The rest, it's up to them, kung ano 'yung gusto nilang mangyari sa season na ito."
Game time is at 4 p.m.
A Game 3, if necessary, is on Tuesday, November 19, still at the MOA Arena.
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