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Letran Knights complete historic run, capture NCAA Season 95 title

Letran coach Bonnie Tan celebrates the Knights' NCAA Season 95 Championship. Ernie Sarmiento/ESPN5

The Letran Knights are the new kings of the NCAA, capturing the Season 95 title and dethroning the San Beda Red Lions, 81-79, Tuesday at the SM MOA Arena.

Jerrick Balanza gave his all in his last game for Letran with a scintillating performance of 27 points, hitting 5-of-9 shots from beyond the arc, while grabbing seven rebounds. The team captain also ended up with a game-saving defensive play as he stopped Evan Nelle's last 3-point attempt, sealing the win for Letran. The title and the late-game heroics gave the perfect redemption story for Balanza who underwent surgery last year to remove a tumor from his brain.

"This was ours right from the very start," Balanza said.

Fran Yu earned finals MVP honors, doing a little bit of everything in Game 3 with his stat line of eight points, five rebounds, and seven assists. He was Letran's go-to-guy of the series with his output of 13.7 points, 3.3 rebounds, 6.0 assists, and 2.0 steals in the three finals game. Bonbon Batiller was also superb in the series-clincher with his output of 19 points and five rebounds.

"We were able to carry the momentum going into today's game," said Letran coach Bonnie Tan as his team had to undergo a grueling stepladder semifinals. "We had a lot of trails we had to endure."

"San Beda is 18-0, defending champions. We knew it was hard, but again, nothing is impossible," he went on.

The winner-take-all Game 3 went down the wire as the Knights came up big in the clutch. Balanza's late triple with 1:29 left gave the Knights a 79-73 advantage. Nelle answered with a 3 of his own. San Beda then sent Yu to the line and the pint-sized guard knocked down his two foul shots to make it a five-point game with 15.9 ticks remaining. The Knights' free throw shooting was the key as they were a perfect 19-for-19 from the line.

San Beda had one last gasp courtesy of a booming triple from Nelle with 11.5 left, cutting the deficit to just two, 79-81. However, the Red Lions failed to convert on their last possession with Balanza shutting the door on their four-peat bid.

For the Red Lions, Donald Tankoua finished with 22 points on 7-for-10 shooting and pulled down seven rebounds. Season MVP Calvin Oftana had 18 and 8 while the trio of James Canlas, Clint Doliguez, and Nelle added 11 apiece.

After a 12-6 record at the end of the elimination round, the Knights became the team of the playoffs, surviving two knockout matches against San Sebastian and Lyceum. Brimming with confidence, they stunned the Red Lions in the finals opener. They lost Game 2 but bounced back with an epic performance in Game 3

With the win, Letran notched its 18th school title and first since 2015 when they also toppled San Beda in the finals.

THE SCORES

LETRAN 81 -- Balanza 27, Batiller 19, Ular 9, Yu 8, Muyang 6, Mina 6,Caralipio 4, Ambohot 2, Balagasay 0, Olivario 0, Javillonar 0, Sangalang 0.

SAN BEDA 79 -- Tankoua 22, Oftana 18, Canlas 11, Nelle 11, Doliguez 11, Carino 3, Soberano 3, Bahio 0, Abuda 0, Visser 0.

Quarters: 26-24, 44-38, 69-59, 81-79.

EXTRA DRIBBLES

- The Knights beat the Red Lions in their own game in terms of hitting the outside shots. Led by Balanza's five shots from deep, the Knights were 10-for-27 in 3-pointers while the Red Lions were only 8-for-32.

- Earlier, the San Beda Red Cubs took home the Juniors title after overpowering the Lyceum Junior Pirates in the rubber match, 98-77. Graduating forward Rhayyan Amsali earned finals MVP honors after putting up 16 points, 11 rebounds, four assists, and three steals in the clincher.