By Waylon Galvez
Games Friday (Cuneta Astrodome, Pasay City)
1:00 p.m. – SSC-R vs Lyceum (Jrs)
4:00 p.m. – Lyceum vs Letran (Srs)
Letran and Lyceum, two neighboring teams inside the historic ‘Walled City’ of Intramuros, dispute the second finals berth in the stepladder playoffs of NCAA Season 95 Friday at the Cuneta Astrodome in Pasay City.
Lyceum is seeking a third straight finals stint after losing twice to San Beda in the championship series the previous two years, while Letran is eyeing a return trip to the finals after winning it all in 2015.
The third seeded Knights arranged a do-or-die match against the No. 2 Pirates after a thrilling 85-80 win against the San Sebastian Stags in the first phase of the playoffs last Tuesday.
With just two days rest, Letran returns to action when it clashes at 4 p.m. with well-rested Lyceum, which last played Oct. 17 against defending three-time champion San Beda.
The winner will face the Red Lions in a best-of-three showdown starting Tuesday at the Mall of Asia (MOA) Arena.
San Beda claimed an outright finals spot following an 18-0 sweep of the eliminations.
Letran mentor Bonnie Tan, who coached Lyceum during the school’s early years in the NCAA, is upbeat about going to the ‘KO’ match despite the Knights’ 0-2 record against the Pirates in the elimination round.
“It’s a big challenge for us as a team playing Lyceum in a do-or-die… hindi pa kami nanalo sa kanila this season,” said Tan. Letran lost 84-80 on opening day last July 7 and 97-90 in the second round on Sept. 27.
“Pero may kasabihan, may tira, may tsamba. Nandito na kami, subukan na namin.”
Letran will again rely on its depth, which allowed Tan to use his bench players like graduating center Christian Balagasay, Kurt Reyson and Allen Mina at the starting five against the Stags.
Mina had an outstanding shooting performance in that game by going 4-of-9 from three-point territory to finish with 12 points against San Sebastian, while reserve guard King Caralipio had nine points.
Five other players scored in double-digit for Letran with Jerrick Balanza’s team-high 15 points, Bonbon Batiller added 14 points, Larry Muyang had 11 points, Ato Ular and Fran Yu contributed 10 points apiece.
Lyceum, for its part, used the long layoff to prepare for the do-or-die encounter with a healthy Mike Nzeusseu back at full strength. The Cameroonian center was in uniform but didn’t play in the Pirates’ final elims game – an 85-62 loss to the Red Lions last Oct. 17.
Lyceum coach Topex Robinson said the 6-foot-7 Nzeusseu will play.
“Yes he is ready to play. It will be an exciting game because Letran is a strong team,” said Robinson.
In their first round victory against Letran, Lyceum’s Jaycee Marcelino fired 24 points, while his twin brother Jayvee added 18 points.
In the second round, Jayvee Marcelino missed the game because of flu, but Jaycee Marcelino was in his usual deadly form and dropped 25 points, while Reymar Caduyac had 20 points, and Nzeusseu contributed 16 points with nine rebounds.
Tags: Allen Mina, Ato Ular, Bonbon Batiller, Bonnie Tan, Christian Balagasay, Fran Yu, Jerrick Balanza, Knights, Kurt Reyson, Larry Muyang, Letran, Letran Knights, Lyceum, Lyceum Pirates, Mike Nzeusseu, NCAA, NCAA S95 men's basketball, NCAA season 95, NCAA Season 95 men's basketball, Pirates, Topex Robinson