Red Lions bag outright finals berth

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    WHO can stop defending three-time champion San Beda University? No one, at least in the elimination round.

    The Red Lions ripped the suddenly-listless Lyceum Pirates 85-62 yesterday and clinched an outright finals slot in the 95th NCAA basketball tournament at The Arena in San Juan.

    Six-foot-5 Cameroonian slotman Donald Tankoua powered San Beda with a game-high 26 points, on top of eight rebounds, while leading MVP candidate Calvin Oftana backed him up with 18 markers, 10 boards, and two assists. James Canlas also tossed in 17 and seven as the Lions completed an eliminations sweep for a league-leading 18-0 card.

    Lyceum slipped to 13-5 and was relegated to the stepladder semifinals along with Letran, which will battle either San Sebastian College or Mapua University.

    The Pirates were the last team to sweep the eliminations in 2017 but lost to San Beda in the finals. The Lions also swept the elims in 2010 on their way to a perfect 18-0 season and the title.

    In the other game, Letran charged back from a 21-point first half hole and subdued also-ran Emilio Aguinaldo College 87-79 to end its elims campaign on a high note.

    Brawny big man Larry Muyang led the Knights with a double-double of 22 points and 11 rebounds while skipper Jerrick Balanza added 20 markers, four caroms, and two feeds.

    Bonbon Batiller and Fran Yu also contributed 15 and 10 points, respectively for Letran, which finished the elims with a 12-6 record for the third seed in the stepladder semis. The Generals compiled a 4-14 slate in the season.

    “It’s a little bit of fulfillment on my part. The goal is to just enjoy this tonight and look forward to the finals. Our job is not yet done,” said San Beda coach Boyet Fernandez.

    “It will be a tough playing in the finals, but we’ll ready whoever we’re gonna face,” he added.

    The Mendiola-based Lions leaned on a vicious 18-3 blitz that turned a 28-23 lead into a 46-26 spread with three minutes to go in the second quarter.

    San Beda took a 48-36 bulge at the half and was still in command 66-49 going into the payoff period.

    The Lions were hardly threatened from there.

    Jaycee Marcelino paced the Pirates with 17 points while Jeff Santos added 12.

    “Binalik namin iyong pinag-usapan namin the past few days. Lahat naman gusto nasa top, pero ito iyong napuntahan namin. Sinasabi ko na lang sa team na it’s not about how you start but how we finish the season,” said Knights tactician Bonnie Tan.