LETRAN thrived in a do-or-die match against gritty San Sebastian College yesterday.
Proving they wanted it more, the No. 3 Knights turned back the fourth-ranked Golden Stags 85-80 in their knockout battle in the stepladder semifinals of the 95th NCAA basketball tournament at the Astrodome in Pasay.
San Sebastian battled back from a 17-point third quarter hole and pulled to within 80-81 on an RK Ilagan three-pointer with 1:40 to go in the fourth canto but King Caralipio answered with a layup that pushed Letran’s lead to 83-80 in the last 59.8 seconds.
The Stags still had their chances but Ilagan and Alvin Capobres committed turnovers down the stretch.
Knights skipper Jerrick Balanza surprisingly muffed his two free throws but Fran Yu pulled down a big offensive rebound and canned two pressure-packed charities that pegged the final count, only 10.2 ticks left.
Balanza led Letran’s balance offensive attack with 15 points, on top of six rebounds, and four assists, with Bonbon Batiller and Allen Mina backstopping him with 14 and 12 markers, respectively.
Larry Muyang, Renato Ular, and Yu also added 11, 10, and 10, respectively, as the Knights forged a winner-take-all duel with No. 2 Lyceum on Friday at the same venue for a finals slot opposite defending three-time champion and unbeaten San Beda University.
Letran came off an 87-79 victory over Emilio Aguinaldo College last Oct. 17.
San Sebastian failed to score a fitting follow-up to its 99-94 win over Perpetual Help last Oct. 18.
Knights coach Bonnie Tan said his charges refused to lose and they showed it.
“In the end, a win is a win. Ayaw ng mga veterans ko na last game nila. Gusto nilang maglaro at mag-practice pa bukas at hindi sila bumigay sa magandang ipinakita ng Baste,” said Tan.