By WAYLON GALVEZ
Letran ace Jerrick Balanza exploded for 26 points as the Knights snapped a two-game skid with a dominant 88-64 win against the College of St. Benilde Blazers in NCAA Season 95 men’s basketball tournament Friday at the Cuneta Astrodome in Pasay City.
In a performance that highlighted his offensive prowess, the 6-foot-1 Balanza celebrated his 24th birthday in style as he shot 8-of-13 from the field, including 4-of-8 from three-point territory.
Balanza scored 16 points in the first two quarters, which set the tone for Letran as the Intramuros-based school made 15-of-35 (42.86%) from the field as compared to CSB’s 11-of-29 (37.93%).
Aside from celebrating his birthday, Balanza said being able to play again is testament to a good life he is having after he was diagnosed with brain tumor a year ago.
“Bukas (Sept. 7) sakto one year na yung surgery ko (Tomorrow it’s one year since I had surgery),” said Balanza, who missed the entire second round of the NCAA last year as he recovered from the surgery.
“Sobrang saya lang na nabigyan ako ng second chance and I’m just trying to maximize kung ano ang meron ako ngayon (I’m so happy that I was given a second chance and I’m just trying to maximize what I have now,” added Balanza, a father of two, Alexandra Jerrica, 5, and Amara Shane, 2.
The win improved Letran’s record to 6-3.
More importantly, it propelled the Knights to a tie for second to fourth spots in the standings with the Blazers and the Lyceum of the Philippines University Pirates.
Letran coach Bonnie Tan said that the long break helped them fine tune several things, including their errors and bad habits that led to back-to-back defeats a few weeks back to defending three-time champion San Beda University and, surprisingly, to San Sebastian College-Recoletos.
“Masaya ako na lumabas yung laro namin, na dati ko pa nga hinahanap (I’m happy that we’re able to finally play our game),” said Tan, who is in his first year as coach of the Knights.
“Sa break namin, we rediscovered yung talent individually. At the same time we identified yung mga errors namin, bad habits sa court (During our long break, we rediscovered the talent individually. At the same time we identified the errors and bad habits on court,” added Tan.
Veteran guard Edson Batiller had 10 points to back up Balanza.
St. Benilde coach TY tang returned from a one-game suspension but his presence wasn’t enough to inspire his boys as they suffered their third defeat in the last four games after a 5-0 start.
Kendrix Belgica led the Blazers with 12 points, the only double digit scorer for the Taft-based team.
LETRAN 88 – Balanza 26, Batiller 10, Olivario 7, Muyang 7, Caralipio 6, Yu 6, Ular 6, Balagasay 6, Ambohot 5, Reyson 5, Mina 2, Sangalang 2, Javillonar 0, Guarino 0.
ST. BENILDE 64 – Belgica 12, Haruna 8, Naboa 7, Flores 7, Carlos 7, Nayve 6, Sangco 5, Lepalam 5, Gutang 3, Young 3, Leutcheu 1, Dixon 1, Velasco 0, Mosqueda 0.
Quarters: 25-15; 46-35; 73-49; 88-64.