The crown isn't going anywhere.
Colegio de San Juan de Letran successfully defended its third straight title with an 81-67 victory over De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde in the winner-take-all Game 3 of the NCAA Season 98 men's basketball finals on Sunday.
King Caralipio posted 20 points and 10 rebounds to lead Letran in the title-clinching victory. Brent Paraiso added 16 points while Kobe Monje chipped in with 11.
The win enabled the Knights to bag a second three-peat for the school following the Samboy Lim-led run of three consecutive championships from 1982 to 1984.
The title, however, remained elusive for the Blazers as they were unable to quench a 22-year title drought.
Letran, which played without team captain and veteran guard Fran Yu, also moved to two titles away from tying rival San Beda University as the winningest team in the league.
Yu, who was the Finals MVP during Letran's Season 95 championship run, was suspended for Game 3 after his ejection in the previous game.
The game started off tightly contested with Benilde sticking close to Letran, 22-21, late in the opening period thanks a tough turnaround jumper from Robi Nayve. But some late free throws from Letran’s Kurt Reyson made it 24-21 at the end of the first and another triple from Reyson capped five more unanswered points as the Knights took a 29-21 lead after a 7-0 run bridging the first two periods.
Despite some early foul trouble to the Benilde frontcourt of Will Gozum and MIggy Corteza, the Blazers continued to battle up until the Knights unleashed an unrelenting 19-2 run that blew the game wide open. Louie Sangalang and Rafael Go combined to score the last eight points of the run as Letran opened up a whopping 23-point advantage, 51-28, in the second quarter.
The two-time defending champs entered the halftime break with a 51-33 lead, led by Caralipio, who contributed 12 points and five rebounds, and Monje, who scored eight points on perfect 2-for-2 shooting from the field and 4-for-4 from the line.
Gozum, the NCAA Season 98 MVP, was limited to just two points in just five and a half minutes of action due to his three fouls. Corteza led Benilde with six points but also garnered three fouls in the first half.
Benilde wasn’t about to roll over, though, as the Blazers battled back in the third quarter, coming back to within 12, 54-42, after a 9-1 rally that saw contributions from Gozum, Corteza, Mark Sangco, and Migs Oczon.
But timely baskets from the Letran side allowed them to build the cushion back up to 70-54 heading into the final period, where the Knights had an answer for everything the Blazers threw at them.
The gutsy Benilde squad showed signs of life late as they had chances to cut the Letran lead down to single-digits, but it wasn't enough in the end. Tensions ran high late after Gozum was called for a disqualifying foul with 1:44 remaining in a physical play involving Pao Javillonar.
Gozum finished with 10 points, two rebounds, a steal, and a block in the loss while Corteza tallied 14 points and seven rebounds.
Letran won four out of five head-to-head games with Benilde, including both elimination round games and Games 1 and 3 of the NCAA FInals.
Letran 81 - Caralipio 20, Paraison 16, Monje 11, Reyson 8, Sanglang 8, Santos 7, Olivario 4, Go 4, Guarinio 2, Javillonar 1, Tolentino 0, Bojorcelo 0.
Benilde 67 - Corteza 14, Pasturan 10, Gozum 10, Oczon 9, Sangco 6, Nayve 6, Flores 5, Marcos 3, Cullar 2, Carlos 2, Davis 0.
Quarters: 24-21, 51-33, 70-54, 81-67.
—JMB, GMA Integrated News