Calvin Oftana made sure that San Beda University would live to fight another day as he helped steer the Red Lions to a heart-stopping 79-76 victory over the Letran Knights on Friday, forcing a winner-take-all Game 3 to decide the NCAA Season 95 champion.
In front of a jam-packed SM Mall of Asia Arena, the league MVP took it upon himself to keep his team's four-peat bid running. Oftana scored on a fastbreak layup under duress with 19.1 seconds left, and connected on his and-1 opportunity to give San Beda a 77-76 advantage. Oftana's bucket came at the most opportune time for the Red Lions especially after Larry Muyang's turnaround jumper gave Letran a slim two-point edge.
After Oftana's go-ahead play, the Red Lions sealed the victory with their defense by forcing a miss by the Knights underneath. James Canlas then iced the game with a pair of free throws and Letran's last attempt was foiled as time expired.
Oftana had 17 points and 11 rebounds while Canlas had an all-around performance of 21 points, seven rebounds, and six assists. Clint Doliguez also had a game to remember with 17 points, bouncing back from his 3-point output in the first game.
"A win is a win. We'll take this one. I'm just relieved that we got over this Game 2 and we won this one," said San Beda coach Boyet Fernandez. "I salute my players also. They really wanted to prove something today. That's what character is. We had a loss, everybody's all against us. But the players didn't really want to lose. I give credit to them."
Coming from their devastating Game 1 loss that stained their previously perfect record, the defending champions stormed out of the gates with a 15-0 scoring spree to start the game.
Just when it looked like the Red Lions were easily going to take the game, the Knights finally came alive in the second half, unleashing a 31-16 third quarter scoring explosion. Fran Yu, the man of the playoffs for Letran, fired 14 points in the period and added five more in the final frame before suffering cramps late in the ball game. Yu finished with 23 points to lead Letran.
Larry Muyang was also superb for the Knights with his double-double of 17 points and 10 rebounds and Bonbon Batiller chipped in with 11.
In the fourth, both teams traded momentum-shifting shots as the game finished with eight deadlocks and six lead changes. In the end, it was the shot by the MVP that proved to be the difference.
"Nice comeback by Calvin," beamed Fernandez. "I'm happy he made his shots late in the fourth."
The Red Lions hope to carry the momentum from tying the series all the way to Game 3.
"I hope we will sustain this one. Playing a tough team like Letran, that will be hard for us but again, I do thank my players, thank the Lord, for another chance, another game to fight for," said Fernandez. "Hopefully we can show them again what this San Beda basketball will be on Tuesday."
Game 3 between the two rivals is on Tuesday at the SM MOA Arena.
In the Juniors Division, league MVP John Barba knocked down the dagger triple with 16.7 seconds left to help the Lyceum Junior Pirates to a 79-74 victory over the San Beda Red Cubs, forcing a Game 3 next Tuesday. It was the first win by Lyceum against San Beda in high school basketball since joining the league in 2011. Barba finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds while Mac Guadaña top-scored for Lyceum with 19 points and added seven boards.
SAN BEDA 79 -- Canlas 21, Oftana 17, Doliguez 17, Carino 7, Nelle 5, Soberano 5, Cuntapay 3, Tankoua 2, Abuda 2, Bahio 0, Noah 0,
LETRAN 76 -- Yu 23, Muyang 17, Batiller 11, Ambohot 9, Balanza 9, Caralipio 7, Olivario 0, Ular 0, Mina 0, Reyson 0, Balagasay 0, Sangalang 0.
Quarters: 18-7, 37-25, 53-56, 79-76.
- After shooting poorly from deep in Game 1, the Red Lions found their range, going 9-for-30 from beyond the arc.
- The Knights committed 21 turnovers which hampered their offense.