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Letran Knights take stepladder KO match vs. SSC Stags

PASAY CITY, PHILIPPINES - OCTOBER 23, 2019: Edson Batiller of Letran goes for a layup against San Sebastian during NCAA Season 95 Men's Basketball stepladder knockout game at the Cuneta Astrodome. KC Cruz/ESPN5

The Letran Knights made all the right plays down the stretch to pull off a thrilling 85-80 victory over the San Sebastian Stags to advance into the next round of the NCAA Season 95 stepladder semifinals Tuesday at the Cuneta Astrodome.

Jerrick Balanza led six Knights in double-figures with 15 points to go along with six rebounds and four assists. The graduating swingman missed two late free throws with 13.3 seconds left as the Knights were clinging to a precarious three-point lead, 83-80. Fortunately, Fran Yu came up with the game's biggest rebound and was able to seal the win with two shots from the line.

Bonbon Batiller added 14 points, including two late triples while Allen Mina chipped in with 12 points on four treys. Yu finished with 10 points and seven rebounds, none bigger than his crucial snag with 10 seconds left.

The third-seed Knights will take on the second-seed Lyceum Pirates for a chance to enter the finals.

"I can only say one thing - my veterans didn't want this to be their last game. They still want to play, they still want to practice tomorrow," said Letran coach Bonnie Tan in Filipino. "They didn't give up despite the good showing by Baste."

The Knights survived a monster game from RK Ilagan who did all he could with a career-high 36 points, 13 coming in the fourth quarter. The fiery guard knocked down seven 3-pointers, including a difficult shot off the backboard to get his team to within a single point, 81-80, with 1:40 remaining, after being down by as many as 17 points in the second half. Ilagan had six rebounds and three assists while battling cramps in the endgame. Allyn Bulanadi, the other half of the Stags' one-two punch, settled for just 15 points on 5-for-17 shooting.

After the Knights made it 83-80 after a basket by King Caralipio, the Stags failed to respond. Ilagan was forced into a backing violation thanks to the Letran defense and eventually had to sit out with 35.6 seconds left to tend to his right leg. With Ilagan momentarily out Alvin Capobres drove to the lane and lost the ball out of bounds. Ilagan would return moments later but the game was already decided after Yu's late rebound and two free throws, despite the key misses from Balanza.

"For me, I'm disappointed because that was my chance to thank you for the Letran community. But I'm positive-minded," Balanza said on his two misses from the stripe. "Even though I wasn't able to shoot those, Fran still got [the rebounds]. It still turned out positive."

Letran will face Lyceum this Friday, 4:00pm, at the Cuneta Astrodome.

THE SCORES

LETRAN 85 -- Balanza 15, Batiller 14, Mina 12, Muyang 11, Ular 10, Yu 10, Caralipio 9, Balagasay 4, Ambohot 0, Olivario 0, Reyson 0, Sangalang 0, Javillonar 0.

SAN SEBASTIAN 80 -- Ilagan 36, Bulanadi 15, Villapando 8, Calahat 7, Capobres 5, Altamirano 5, Desoyo 2, Sumoda 1, Cosari 1, Calma 0, Isidro 0. Quarters: 23-20, 50-40, 69-59, 85-80.