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After a heartbreaking 2015 campaign, the San Beda Red Lions did exactly what they vowed to do after their sorry NCAA championship loss to the Letran Knights last year, and that is to bring back the crown they held from 2011 to 2014 to Mendiola. “Redemption 2.0” was achieved on October 11, 2016 as the 20-time National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) champions completed a finals sweep of the Arellano University (AU) Chiefs via an 83-73 triumph in Game 2 at the Mall of Asia Arena. San Beda shaded AU, 88-85, in Game 1.
Seven years ago, the Lions were in a similar situation when they bowed to the Calvin Abueva-led San Sebastian Stags in the finals of 2009. The following year, San Beda bounced back with an emphatic 18-0 sweep of the 2010 NCAA season to wrest back the championship and realize “Redemption 1.0.”
Last year’s debacle was a distasteful one for the Red Lions, who were seeking a record-breaking sixth straight NCAA crown. But this bid was thwarted by a hard-fighting Letran side, which was piloted by rookie coach Aldin Ayo, and the dreaded duo of the pro-bound Mark Cruz and Kevin Racal. First-year San Beda coach Jamike Jarin received a lot of flak from the bitter loss, especially as the Lions were heavily favored to win the 2015 plum. They were bannered by the deadly trio of Arth Dela Cruz, Ola Adeogun and Baser Amer, which wreaked havoc in the league for four years. But the hungrier Knights outlasted the Red Lions in overtime in the winner-take-all Game 3 last year.
Jarin did not waste time in laying the groundwork for “Redemption 2.0,” as he immediately assembled a formidable unit, this time sans Amer, Dela Cruz and Adeogun, who all have graduated from the program. But the new Red Lions crew was just as mighty, if not mightier, even with nine NCAA first-timers. Jarin brought in former La Salle ace guard Robert Bolick and ex-Cal State Northridge playmaker Davon Potts to bolster a deep roster that includes team captain Roldan Sara, 2015 finals standout Javee Mocon, former Batang Gilas skipper Ranbill Tongco, Cameroonian post specialist Donald Tankoua, and the sweet-shooting AC Soberano. The other rookies are Arnaud Noah of Cameroon, Calvin Oftana of Dumaguete, Kyle Carlos of La Salle Greenhills, William Navarro of Greece, Benedict Adamos of Albay, and Kenneth Alas of San Beda High. The other members of the 2016 batch are Jun Bonsubre and Jose Presbitero.
From the opening day of Season 92, host San Beda sprinted to an 8-0 record after drubbing its opponents one after the other. But a sweep of the first round was denied by the Jose Rizal University Heavy Bombers, who dealt the Red Lions their first loss, 73-79. Against AU in the first round, the Red Lions were able to recover after falling by as many as 29 points, and complete a remarkable 101-86 come-from-behind victory.
But in the second round, luck seemed to run out as 6’5” starting center Tankoua suffered a knee injury in just San Beda’s second assignment, versus Emilio Aguinaldo College. The reliable sophomore was later found to have fully torn his ACL on the right knee, ending his season, and leaving the Red Lions with a huge hole in the middle. This prompted Jarin to try the rookie Adamos, a prize transferee from the Technological Institute of the Philippines. The 6’5” Bicolano center was a revelation as he delivered the goods for San Beda in several games, amassing impressive numbers in points, mostly from short jumpers and putbacks, rebounds and blocks. Adamos clearly filled in the void left by Tankoua.
Late in the second round however, the Lions absorbed back-to-back losses that exposed some glaring cracks in their defense. They struggled against a hot-shooting Mapua Cardinals troop and succumbed in overtime, 97-101. Then, the Bombers repeatedly over San Beda, this time with a more emphatic win as they bamboozled the Lions by as many as 27 markers, before settling at 97-88.
San Beda ended the elimination rounds in a tie with AU, both with 14-4 win-loss cards. But the Lions still took the No. 1 spot for the eleventh straight year after subduing the Chiefs in a playoff game for the top spot, 91-81.
In the semis, the Lions faced No. 4 Perpetual Help University Altas, which were led by super import Bright Akhuetie. The 6’6” Nigerian sensation made minced meat of San Beda’s defense as he carried the Altas to an 87-83 upset of the Lions to force a rubber match for the second finals berth. Arellano booked the first finals seat with a 92-80 shellacking of Mapua.
But in the do-or-die game, the Red Lions refused to be denied an eleventh consecutive finals appearance and stamped their class over the Altas, 78-63, to gain the right to tangle with Arellano in a best-of-three finals for the 2016 NCAA diadem.
Arellano and San Beda were the pre-season favorites anyway. The Lions were on a mission to redeem themselves of the setback from last year, while the Chiefs wanted badly to get back at San Beda after bowing to the same foe in the 2014 finals. This time, the Chiefs were headed by arguably the country’s best amateur point guard – Jio Jalalon – and best buddy Kent Salado. The Chiefs were the league’s best in transition points. San Beda and Arellano were also the NCAA’s No. 1 and 2 best scoring teams respectively.
Game 1 saw a nip-and-tuck showdown from the get-go. Jalalon and Salado reminded everybody why they were the quickest tandem in Season 92 as they sizzled with heavy transition attacks. Bull-strong power forward Lervin Flores was also dominant inside the paint. But San Beda’s fluid running game and outside artillery were too much for the Chiefs as the Big Red Machine prevailed with the 88-85 win.
In Game 2, the Chiefs started strong and looked ready to extend the series to a grand finale, as Jalalon wowed the Mall of Asia crowd again with his speed and long-distance bombs. But Bolick was quick to retaliate with his own scoring spree that doused cold water on the Chiefs’ run. Later on, Noah surprised everybody with his one-on-one skills as he repeatedly made defender Dioncee Holts of AU eat his dust with explosive drives to the basket. Mocon and Potts also hit crucial baskets in the payoff period, helping San Beda cruise to an 83-73 triumph, and fulfill the promise of taking back the NCAA crown.
Noah was named Finals MVP, while his best buddy Tankoua, despite missing seven games, was voted to the Mythical Team. Jarin was rightfully given the Coach of the Year award.
The predominantly San Beda crowd, dubbed the Red Army, celebrated in midcourt again for the ninth time in eleven years.
The Red Lions are looking to make another title run in the NCAA after a three-peat feat from 2006 to 2008, and a five-peat reign from 2010 to 2014. Only Sara won’t be returning in Season 93, as he has donned the Red and White colors of San Beda for four years already, after playing one season for La Salle in the UAAP.
The future certainly looks bright for the Red Lions, who remains the winningest team in the NCAA with 20 men’s basketball titles. Letran follows with 17.
Just a little over a month since capturing the NCAA championship however, Jarin resigned from his post as Red Lions coach to accept a coaching offer from National University. Nonetheless, former San Beda chief bench tactician Boyet Fernandez, who steered the school to back-to-back titles in 2013 and 2014, was given the green light to return to the Lions’ den.
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