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San Beda Regains NCAA Basketball Title with Victory over Mapua

Smelling blood from their wounded rivals, the San Beda Red Lions went for the kill, dealing the final blow on the Mapua Cardinals, 76-66, to reclaim the NCAA men’s basketball title on Sunday.

Yukien Andrada delivered the biggest Mapua heartbreak in the final period, pouring most of his game-high 20 points in that pivotal stretch as the Lions completed the mission witnessed by a sea of 23,077 screaming fans at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

Running a consistent performance throughout the series, James Payosing went to work one last time and ensured the victory—San Beda’s 23rd NCAA crown overall—with his last-minute heroics to seize the Finals MVP trophy.

“This Finals MVP trophy is just a bonus. Winning the championship is far more important,’’ said Payosing after edging San Beda king lion Jacob Cortez for the accolade.

Cortez, the Game 2 hero who helped force the decider with the Cardinals in their best-of-three titular showdown, suffered from cramps midway in the fourth, prompting Andrada and Payosing to step on the plate.

“I’m speechless. The players are the ones who decided to take this path. They worked hard, there were a lot of struggles, but they fought and rose from adversity,’’ said San Beda coach Yuri Escueta, who was named coach of the year.

It was a perfect send-off for graduating players Damie Cuntapay, Peter Alfaro and Clifford Jopia, who all contributed to the championship that the Lions last captured during the 2018-2019 season. San Beda won 12 championships in the past two decades.

“Knowing that there’s no more tomorrow, we gave everything we’ve got, stuck together, fought hard and got rewarded,’’ said Cortez, who never received any individual award but snared the ultimate prize after leading the Lions since their surge in the second round of the eliminations.

The sorry script for the Cardinals remained unaltered. Similar to their meltdown in the second game after gaining headway in the series opener, the Cardinals came off strong in the third quarter only to fumble in the crucial stretches.

Rookie-MVP Clint Escamis collected most of the individual awards, but couldn’t pull through, scoring 13 points on an atrocious four of 22 shooting, nearly duplicating his dismal performance from the field in Game 2.

Meanwhile, the Red Lions were on a mission to win it all right from the start.

Nygel Gonzales pierced through the Mapua defense, rewarding the Lions their widest margin of nine points in the opening quarter.

Gonzales continued to nail it in the ensuing plays, an unchallenged three from the corner off a Cortez feed and another serpentine move in the lane that kept San Beda in control.

But JC Recto, sustaining his groove since an explosive Game 2 performance, hit a stepback three followed by a confident hail mary from afar pushed the Cardinals within reach.

Ryle Rosillo’s reckless initiative in chasing the Red Lions bore fruit, scoring six points near the end of the second quarter capped by a layup that cut down the Mapua disadvantage, 36-35, at the break.

Escamis buried a corner three-pointer at the onset of the third that finally put them ahead while Recto, proving he’s more than just a sidekick, kept on creating problems for the San Beda defense.

With Cortez suffering from cramps, Andrada momentarily took over and fired a three following a game-tying lay-in and Payosing scored on an incursion, sending the Red Lions back on top.

Recto’s pull-up jumper and Kobe Dalisay’s three were all the Cardinals needed to secure a 57-54 advantage entering the fourth.

Back-to-back threes by Andrada quickly wiped out that San Beda deficit and the Red Lions saw themselves sitting on a seven-point lead midway in the final period on a Cortez runner.

Then Payosing went to work one last time, finishing Mapua off by aggressively attacking the rim and netting the important free throws in the end while 6-foot-8 Jopia pulled a couple of defensive gems on the other side of the floor.



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And that was it for the Cardinals, who witnessed a season-long brilliance circle the drain and the chance to claim the title that eluded them the past 31 years.