The Letran Knights celebrate after ousting the San Sebastian Stags, 73-70, to enter the NCAA Finals. (George Calvelo/NPPA Images)

He may have shattered a handful of records in league history but Calvin Abueva failed to come up big when San Sebastian College-Recoletos needed him most Monday night.
The 6-foot-2 Abueva missed a potentially-tying three-point attempt in the crunch as host Letran hung tough for a 73-70 victory in their do-or-die match and sealed the second finals berth in the NCAA Season 88 men’s basketball action at The Arena in San Juan.
Diminutive Mark Cruz scattered 10 of his team-high 20 points in the fourth while ace star Kevin Alas, who sizzled with 43 points in their masterful 92-74 win last Friday, was held down to just 18, but it was the steady free-throw outing of veterans Jonathan Belorio and Jam Cortes in the crunch that enabled the Knights to overhaul their twice-to-beat disadvantage against the favored Golden Stags.
More importantly, Letran returns to the NCAA Finals for the first time since 2007, where the Knights will face archrival and two-time defending champion San Beda, which booted out Perpetual Help 56-52 last Friday.
Staring at a 56-60 deficit, Cruz drilled in a triple that sparked a 9-0 Knights run, but the Stags answered back with six straight markers, capped by a Dexter Maiquez short stab for a 66-65 lead with 3:37 left.
Standing a mere 5-foot-5, Cruz clustered four consecutive points before Ian Sangalang scored off a lay-up and Maiquez scooped in another for a 70-69 SSC lead, time down to just 50.4 seconds.
Given a golden chance to put the Stags up by three, Abueva muffed his two charities and Maiquez was called for a loose-ball foul against Belorio, who coolly sank his two charities to put Letran ahead 71-70 with 23.9 ticks remaining.
Although the Knights were already above the foul limit, the Stags opted for a low-percentage shot, with Abueva handing off to Pascual who uncorked a wild trey that went way left, although replays showed that Alas slightly bumped him in mid-air.
Cortes then collared the rebound, got a foul off Maiquez, and drained the marginal free throws–his first two points–that virtually pegged the final count, time down to just 9.2 seconds.
With no more timeout left, San Sebastian quickly rushed the leather and Abueva bungled his last-gasp trey, sending the Knights and their fans into a frenzy.
The 6-foot-2 Abueva posted another monster numbers of 22 points and 21 rebounds but he still bowed out without a fitting cap to a dominant outing this season.
The soon-to-be-named MVP Sangalang, who is expected to solely take the cudgels next year with the departure of Abueva and Ronald Pascual, finished with 15 points, three assists and as many steals for the Stags, who made it to the finals the past three years and won a title in 2009.


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