By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
FOR the 12th straight year, the San Beda Red Lions are playing in the finals of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) after besting rivals San Sebastian Stags, 76-71, in their semifinal knockout game yesterday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Forced to play in a do-or-die contest with the semifinal this season rendered a stepladder following the sweep of the elimination round of the top-seeded Lyceum Pirates, the defending champions showed they were fine with it as they led the Stags from start to finish en route to the win.
Led by the trio of Robert Bolick, Javee Mocon and AC Soberano, San Beda dominated early, establishing a double-digit lead, 16-3, which it would use as leverage to take a 26-11 spread at the end of the opening quarter.
The Stags showed better energy and poise in the second canto as Alvin Capobres and Ryan Costelo started finding their shots.
But the Lions would maintain order as the quarter progressed to hold a 44-31 advantage at the halftime break.
In the third period, San Sebastian opened strong, led by veteran Michael Calisaan.
The Stags went on a 15-6 run to cut their deficit to just six points, 50-46, with under five minutes remaining.
Mocon though would steady the San Beda ship to survive the San Sebastian onslaught and maintain a 57-51 advantage at the end of the quarter.
The two teams battle it out at the beginning of the final 10 minutes, fighting to a 60-55 count in the first two minutes with the Lions still on top.
San Beda maintained such distance, 67-62, with under five minutes to go.
The Stags tried to narrow the gap further thereafter but the Lions just would not let go of the lead, padding their lead to 10 points, 72-62, at the 3:41 mark and eventually streaked to the win.
The victory set up San Beda with a date with Lyceum in the best-of-three finals which begin on Friday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Mocon had a monster double-double of 23 points and 22 rebounds to go along with five blocks.
Bolick had 21 points and Donald Tankoua with 13 points and 11 rebounds.
Jayson David, meanwhile, led the Stags with 16 points and seven rebounds with Costelo adding 15 and Calisaan 10 points.
“San Sebastian played well but there can only be one winner. We’re happy we got this win,” said San Beda coach Boyet Fernandez after their win.
“Credit, too, to my players because they came out with much energy despite our 19-day layoff and rose to the challenge,” he added.