Lions sweep elims, earn outright finals slot

San Beda University completed an elimination sweep after trampling on finals rival Lyceum of the Philippines University, 85-62, in Season 95 National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) seniors basketball tournament on Thursday at the FilOil Flying V Centre in San Juan City.

The Red Lions dictated the tempo early on and led by as high as 25 points as they swept the 18-game eliminations to gain an automatic spot in the best-of-three finals and forge a stepladder semifinals.

“It’s a little bit of fulfillment on my part that we got this achievement. But as what I’ve always said, we’ll just enjoy this tonight and then we will go to the finals. Our job is not yet done,” said San Beda veteran coach Boyet Fernandez. San Beda made its 14th straight finals appearance and earned a chance to replicate its 16-0 season sweep back in 2010.

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Letran’s King Caralipio and EAC’s Kriss Gurtiza battle for the loose ball during a Season 95 NCAA seniors basketball game on Thursday at the FilOil Flying V Centre in San Juan City. PHOTO BY ENRIQUE AGCAOILI

It was the second 18-game elimination round sweep in the NCAA after Lyceum did the same feat two years ago but lost to San Beda in the finals.

The second-seeded Pirates sank to 13-5. Two-time runner-up Lyceum will battle the winner between the third and the fourth seeds in a knockout game for a return ticket to the finals.

Earlier, Colegio de San Juan de Letran shrugged off a sluggish start as it trounced Emilio Aguinaldo College (EAC), 87-79, to sustain its winning ways heading to the Final Four.

The third-seeded Knights erased an early 19-point deficit then waxed hot in the second half to post their third straight victory and close the elimination round with a 12-6 record.

“We really wanted to end the eliminations on a high note,” said Letran’s first-year coach Bonnie Tan, whose squad notched back-to-back semifinal appearances as the third seed.

Big man Larry Muyang drilled a double-double of 22 points and 11 rebounds while graduating gunner Jerrick Balanza fired 20 points to power Letran’s balanced attack.

“This is my last year with Letran. I don’t want to take an early vacation. I want to play with them more,” said Balanza, who missed the Final Four last year after undergoing an operation to remove a tumor in his brain.

Veteran guard Bonbon Batiller chipped in 15 points and four assists, while Fran Yu added 10 markers, four dimes and three boards in the come-from-behind win.

Jethro Mendoza closed his collegiate stint with a career-high 26 points built on six triples, while forward JP Maguliano had 13 markers and nine boards in the loss for the Generals.

EAC ended its campaign at the bottom with a dismal 4-14 slate.

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