San Beda's cloak of invincibility finally wore off in Game 1 of the NCAA Season 95 finals against Letran.
The Red Lions last tasted defeat in a first round matchup a year ago and have won 32 consecutive games since, including an 18-0 elimination sweep this season. However, everything fell apart for them during the biggest stage of the tournament as the rival Knights inched closer to stopping the San Beda dynasty with a 65-64 opening victory.
One of the primary subplots of San Beda's defeat was whether its 26-day layoff since earning an outright finals berth as the No. 1 seed led to rust. From the opening tip, the Knights looked determined to overthrow the defending champions right.
San Beda coach Boyet Fernandez downplayed the notion that the long break proved detrimental to his team.
"The score was in our favor since it's below 70 points," Fernandez said. "The problem is that we weren't able to convert from deep. We were the No. 1 team from the 3-point area up to the finals. But it left us today."
The Red Lions shot a total of 171 triples (9.5 per game) during the regular season with a league-best 33.2 shooting clip. On Tuesday against Letran, their 3-point shooting was nowhere to be found. They only made six out of 40 attempts, or 15 percent.
"It's a matter of the players' conviction that they can make it," the coach said. "This team is very young and this is the finals. Having a perfect slate caught up with them probably. This serves as a lesson for us."
Another thing that stood out for the Red Lions was their assist total. They led the league with 19.2 assists per game but managed just 10 against the tenacious defense of the Knights. Evan Nelle, San Beda's lead guard who averages 6.7 assists per game, spearheaded the offense with 20 points but only had one assist.
Overall, San Beda looked like a team that was a step slow against a Letran team that's sharp and peaking at the right time, especially coming off two knockout games in the stepladder semifinals. Even in the Red Lions' final possession with a chance to take the lead, they failed to execute as league MVP Calvin Oftana missed his outside shot.
"Actually they know the play. We just didn't execute it," Fernandez lamented. "We've been practicing that the last  days. It's probably because of the pressure and [we were] down by one. We simulated that already. It's a matter of execution. I will always take the blame when we lose and it's the guys who will step up.
"The pressure is off our backs right now. Having a clean slate takes its toll on the players and the community but we did that. No one is to blame but ourselves. We have to suck it up and move on for Friday."
San Beda's long break, as well as the pressure to keep its record unblemished, is finally over. Now, the real work begins for the three-time defending champions to even the series on Friday.
"I believe that it will be tough because we only lost once this season," Fernandez said. "We don't know how we will come back but I told them that the test of our character is how we can come back from a loss... It's up to us to get back at them on Friday. It's a big test for our character and the maturity of our young boys."