Letran Knights: How the crown was won

Migs Bustos on Oct 31, 2015 06:32 PM
Letran Knights: How the crown was won
Mark Cruz engineered strong starts for the Knights during the best-of-three series.

If it has not been stressed enough, I’ll stress it again, Letran has been counted out by even making the Final Four this season.
After having a less than satisfactory season last year with a 6th place finish at 9-9, the Knights looked for a fresh start as they hired Coach Aldin Ayo and Coach Glenn Capacio and received support from team manager Manny Pacquiao. The rest was history.

Perhaps that doubt had driven them all season long and a team that had nothing to lose became dangerous. With a team that had an average height of at least 5’11” and having no foreign players in their line-up, the Letran Knights proved to the basketball world that they can defy all the odds against them.

Below are my five key points on why they won this series:

Inspired Basketball

This 91st season has proven to be one of the most thrilling in recent years, with six teams vying for a playoff spot up until the last elimination round game.

Prior to their September 12 game against Mapua, Letran was sitting comfortably in the top spot with an 11-2 record.

However, the Knights lost to Mapua, JRU and San Beda, which made them uncertain to take the twice-to-beat advantage and even put them in peril of being eliminated from the Final Four race because other teams were tied at 12-6.

Coming into the game against Perpetual Help last October 9, the Knights’ mindset was that they did not want to be any part of the mess and wasted no time blasting the Altas early. That win was the defining moment that they were ready for the playoffs and most importantly, it gained for themselves the twice –to-beat advantage.

Those setbacks tested the Knights and enabled them to go far. The grueling and crucial games they’ve been involved with all season long set the character of Letran coming into the finals. They established their presence early on by nabbing Game One and even though they lost Game Two, they knew that the series was theirs in the third and final encounter. That drive and hunger to bring the title back to Muralla was the driving force to get every loose ball and to make every possession count as if everything was at stake. One can never count out the support from managers, alumni and students that has been given to the team which made them believe that they could go all the way.

Strong Start


This 91st season has proven to be one of the most thrilling in recent years, with six teams vying for a playoff spot up until the last elimination round game.

Prior to their September 12 game against Mapua, Letran was sitting comfortably in the top spot with an 11-2 record.

However, the Knights lost to Mapua, JRU and San Beda, which made them uncertain to take the twice-to-beat advantage and even put them in peril of being eliminated from the Final Four race because other teams were tied at 12-6.

Coming into the game against Perpetual Help last October 9, the Knights’ mindset was that they did not want to be any part of the mess and wasted no time blasting the Altas early. That win was the defining moment that they were ready for the playoffs and most importantly, it gained for themselves the twice –to-beat advantage.

Those setbacks tested the Knights and enabled them to go far. The grueling and crucial games they’ve been involved with all season long set the character of Letran coming into the finals. They established their presence early on by nabbing Game One and even though they lost Game Two, they knew that the series was theirs in the third and final encounter. That drive and hunger to bring the title back to Muralla was the driving force to get every loose ball and to make every possession count as if everything was at stake. One can never count out the support from managers, alumni and students that has been given to the team which made them believe that they could go all the way.

Strong Start

Interesting stat: 56 out of the 97 NCAA games played this season or 58% were won when the team scores the first basket.

In Game Three, Kevin Racal scored the first two points of the game. In games that Letran started out strong, such as in the first and third games where they led by as much as nine points three minutes into the opening period, they have come off to win those games.

In comparison during Game Two, they were held to only four points and trailed by as much as eight around the same time in the first and third games.

This was a very key element in Letran’s game plan because they knew that if they got a good start, chances are they’ll be the ones to set the tempo early, to control the game as well, and to make San Beda play catch up.

Suicide Squad

The big three in Kevin Racal, Mark Cruz and Rey Nambatac have been given so much praise in being responsible for their title run, but it must not be forgotten that the supporting cast made their jobs easier.

During the Finals, the Knights’ role players were never afraid to rise up to the occasion.

In the first game, Mcjour Luib scored a career-high 16 points. In Game Two, the team forced San Beda into 32 turnovers. Game Three was the defining moment for rookie Jom Sollano. He, like Luib, also scored his career-high with 19 points and made the biggest basket of his young career when he hit the go-ahead jumper in overtime. Besides these guys, everybody on the bench with their energy played a key factor maintaining their “Mayhem” defense.

Breaks of the Game

Letran was leading big in the last two minutes of the fourth quarter in Game Three and it seemed like the game was theirs and all the Knights had to do was wait for time to expire.

Baser Amer though forced a deadly turnover against Luib that led his team to that 8-0 blast that sent the game to overtime. Fortunately, the Knights still had a second chance.

In the fourth quarter, there were crucial 50-50 balls that led to jump balls, which favored Letran. In overtime, San Beda relied on its momentum and gained the lead for the first time since the third quarter.

However, the Knights refused to give up as they forced turnovers, played great defense by contesting point-blank shots of Ola and Art and made key stops during that nail-biting stretch. They kept their composure and had their own four-point swing to regain the lead back, 83-82.

Yes, Sollano’s go-ahead basket might have been one of the biggest plays in that game. He was then fouled by Adeogun which sent him to the line, and that led to the biggest break of the game.

Sollano made the first foul shot. What transpired next will remain in history books as one of the highly contested plays ever done. Racal and Luib knew that the possession arrow pointed towards their end and they also knew the rules. If you watched the game, you knew what happened. To make things simpler, “Lane Violation” is defined in the rulebook where in “a player on the foul lanes enter the key before the shot is released by the player shooting the free throw”. If the teammate of the foul shooter enters alone and the shot misses, it causes to a turnover by the offensive team and possession will go to the opposing team. If an opponent alone enters before the shooter releases his shot and the shot misses, the foul shooter shall again retake his foul shot. Now, specifically in that fateful Thursday’s scenario, both Luib and De La Cruz went in (does not matter if they went together or if Luib stepped in first, as long as the foul shot has not yet been released) before Sollano was able to release his free throw. The officials were alert enough to not let that violation pass and blew their whistle on that. If double lane violations are called, it results to a jump ball. But since NCAA house rules do not apply the traditional jump ball when those types of violations occur (FIBA rules), they apply the “possession arrow” process. What resulted was the biggest break of the game that awarded possession to Letran. Coach Aldin then called a timeout for them to regain another chance to go back to the line. True enough, Mark Cruz was fouled and was able to hit a free throw and the Lions did not have enough time to make a decent shot.

Defense Wins Championships

“Offense wins games, defense wins championships”. A classic quote in basketball that will never get old.

Take a look back at the four-peat championship of De La Salle University during 1998-2001 when Franz Pumaren’s “Nightmare Press” made waves in collegiate basketball. UST’s title squad in 2006 had no superstars, but was composed of solid role players when they were down 0-1 against Ateneo. How did they win that series? It was all about their defensive principles, effort and their heart.

In recent memory, San Beda’s five-peat would not have been achieved if it was not for their suffocating defense. Imagine, solid and talented players on their squad who played great team defense were the best weapons to winning championships.

This year, Letran introduced to us their “Mayhem” defense and I cannot stress that enough. During the start of the season, many were worried that they might be gassed up too soon because of the demands of the system.

One can see that the backcourt became banged up after games and one questioned “Can they go all the way?”, “Will they peak too early?” and “Will they stay healthy until the Final Four?”

Coach Aldin and his staff answered all those questions and made sure that their team just peaked at the right time and will not run out of gas early.

All season long, they’ve forced their opponents to 27.9 turnovers per game and made San Beda’s life miserable, making them give away 30 turnovers (on average) per game in the finals.

The Letran Knights made us believe that they could go all the way because it was Coach Aldin who first believed in himself that they can. His strong belief then made his players believe. Even though they were down in their season series against the Red Lions, they still did. And up to the last buzzer of the last game, the whole Letran faithful showed to the world why they believed in the first place.

Latest News