MANILA, Philippines -- Letran coach Bonnie Tan gave full credit to his star-studded supporting group on Tuesday, after he guided the Knights to the NCAA Season 95 men's basketball title.
The Knights pulled off an impressive upset of San Beda in the finals, twice beating a team that had gone undefeated in the elimination round to claim their first NCAA championship since 2015.
Plenty of praise went to Tan, who had his team playing with great poise down the stretch of Game 3. The Knights held off a final rally by the Red Lions for an 81-79 triumph, in the process denying their rivals a fourth straight title.
"The boys deserve this," Tan said of his players. "They worked hard for this trophy."
"Playing a team like San Beda, 18-0, defending champion, alam natin na mahirap, pero again, walang imposible," he also said. "Sinasabi ko sa mga players na, just stay positive, continue the momentum na na-gain natin during the elimination and the stepladdder, and we'll be OK."
The Knights had to play two knockout games in the stepladder semifinals just to make it to the title round, and they survived two close games against San Sebastian and Lyceum to make it there. Those tight contests were just a prelude, however, to their thrilling series against the Red Lions.
Letran pounced on San Beda in Game 1, holding on for a 65-64 win that ended the Red Lions' 32-game winning streak dating back to last season. San Beda rebounded in Game 2, 79-76, but the Knights proved to be the more composed team in the clutch of the deciding contest.
While he gave all the credit to his players, Tan also acknowledged the help he got from his "friends," the row of coaches and basketball personalities who sat behind the Letran bench all throughout the finals.
Alfrancis Chua, the San Miguel Corp. sports director who also serves as Letran special assistant to the rector for sports development, was a mainstay in the series, as was NorthPort head coach Pido Jarencio and former Letran coach Jeff Napa.
In Game 3, San Miguel's star point guard Chris Ross, and Barangay Ginebra's celebrated import Justin Brownlee also watched the game.
"They're giving me strength," Tan said of the presence of his friends. "Not only sa coaches but sa mga players din."
"So, a lot of experience na nabibigay nila sa team, lalo na sa mga ganitong klaseng laban, sanay na sanay sila," he added.
The coaches continued to help Tan in timeouts, with Napa seen giving tips to big man Larry Muyang while Chua looked on.
When the buzzer sounded, they all spilled onto the court to celebrate with Tan and the Knights.
"We worked with kung ano 'yung binigay sa aming opportunity dito," Tan said. "Pagdating natin dito, again, players are already in the team."
"I give credit sa program ng Letran sports, and to their former coach, Jeff Napa. Again, mga players naman naglalaro, hindi naman coaches."
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