By CARLO ANOLIN
College of St. Benilde fended off San Beda’s determined challenge to barge into the Finals of the NCAA Season 98 men’s basketball tournament with a nail-biting 62-61 win on Tuesday, Nov. 29, at the Filoil EcoOil Centre in San Juan City.
Migs Oczon delivered big time in the clutch for the Blazers, making up for a turnover and a missed three-pointer down the stretch to help carry the team back in the finals for the first time in 20 years.
The Lions, on the other hand, will miss the finals for the second straight year.
The Blazers will face the 3-peat-seeking Letran Knights, who outlasted the Lyceum Pirates, 67-58, in the other semis pairing.
Both Benilde and Letran came into their respective games enjoying a twice-to-beat advantage after finishing the elims 1-2.
Behind the heroics of Oczon, who finished with 17 points highlighted by a perfect 8-of-8 shooting from the free throw line along with six rebounds, CSB was able to hold their 60-56 lead for a while after a huge block on JB Bahio’s attempt off transition with 44 seconds left.
The Red Lions, however, clamped down on their defense and force the Blazers to commit a 24-second shot clock violation in the ensuing play as Will Gozum, who also had another double-double performance of 10 points and 11 rebounds, found himself in a heavy traffic and failed to make a shot.
In the next possession, San Beda’s Tony Ynot, with no clear space inside the paint, found James Kwekuteye open from the right corner and the wily guard electrified the crowd after hitting a booming triple pushed them closer at 60-59 with 14.3 seconds left.
As pressure continues to fill in the arena, with the crowd cheering for their respective schools, Oczon showed steely nerves down the stretch and drained two crucial free throws to keep another three-point lead at 62-59 with 12.7 ticks to go.
The Lions still have their chances for their last possession but Kwekuteye couldn’t replicate the same shot on the same spot and missed twice from beyond the arc before Damie Cuntapay had the putback basket.
CSB 62 ˗ Oczon 17, Pasturan 16, Gozum 10, Nayve 8, Corteza 7, Sangco 4, Cullar 0, Carlos 0, Marcos 0, Lepalam 0, Lim 0.
SAN BEDA 61 ˗ Cortez 13, Kwekuteye 11, Bahio 9, Sanchez 8, Ynot 6, Cuntapay 4, Andrada 3, Cometa 3, Alfaro 2, Visser 2, Payosing 0.
Quarters: 19-14, 34-31, 54-48, 62-61.