Reigning champion Letran College displayed its mental toughness down the stretch to pull off a 72-68 win over Emilio Aguinaldo College in Season 98 National Collegiate Athletic Association men’s basketball tournament on Wednesday at the Filoil EcoOil Centre in San Juan.
Brent Paraiso knocked down a pair of clutch shots in the crucial stretch before the Knights employed an airtight defense to seal their sixth win in nine games entering the second round of the country’s oldest collegiate league.
The Generals, for their part, got buried deeper into the team standings as they suffered their eighth consecutive setback.
Paraiso, a transferee from University of Santo Tomas, registered 15 points and nine rebounds for the Knights, who banked on the 16-point performance by King Caralipio.
Kurt Reyson fired seven of his 13 points in the final quarter while veteran Fran Yu added seven markers for the Knights, who are looking to clinch their third straight title under coach Bonnie Tan.
“I don’t know if I’m going to be angry or happy, but it was a good, tough win for us,” Tan, also the team manager of NorthPort in the Philippine Basketball Association, said.
“Going into the game, I told the players that whoever we play against, we should stick to our defense.”
True enough, it wasn’t a walk in the park for Letran as it faced a team with nothing to lose but everything to gain.
With Letran holding a slim three-point lead, 64-61, midway through the fourth quarter, Paraiso nailed back-to-back shots to stretch the lead to seven, 68-61, with over four minutes left.
But the Generals refused to surrender with Adrian Balowa unloading a huge three-pointer to trim the gap to within two, 70-68, with only 64 seconds left.
Letran tightened its defensive clamps as it forced Allen Liwag to miss his shot and JP Maguilano to commit a crucial turnover in the final four seconds before Reyson iced the game from the charity stripe.
“EAC gave us a good game and they made it hard for us to get this tough win,” Tan added.
Allen Liwag finished with a game-high 20 markers and seven rebounds for the Generals, who drew 16 and 15 markers from Adam Doria and Balowa, respectively.