Benilde marches into NCAA men’s hoops finals after 20 long years

The CSB Blazers are one series away from an NCAA title. (GMA Sports PH Facebook)

By Leobert Julian A. de la Peña

The College of Saint Benilde (CSB) Blazers continued its magical NCAA Season 98 men’s basketball tournament run after breaking its 20-year grand finals drought last November 29, 2022.

Benilde gave their all and weathered the storm to hack out a 62-61 escape victory over the multi-champion squad San Beda Red Lions held at the Filoil Ecooil Centre gym.

Despite giving up their lead in the most crucial stretch of the game during the last three minutes, the Blazers still found a way to respond courtesy of the clutch Miguel Oczon.

The Red Lions were able to erase Benilde’s 13-point lead established in the first half and went unconscious in the final frame to set up a one-point contest with the Blazers leading 60-59.

With 12.7 seconds left, San Beda fouled Oczon and sent him to the free-throw line. Facing a hostile red and gold fan base, the savvy veteran knocked down both of his shots from the charity stripe and extended their lead to 62-59.

San Beda had enough time to execute their gameplay but main gunner James Kwekuteye missed all of his attempts.

The Red Lions were able to score a put-back layup that trimmed the lead to one, 62-61, but time wasn’t on their side as the Blazers let the 0.4 seconds of time expire and celebrate after the hard-earned win.

“I’m just so thankful right now. We had some luck down the stretch but I guess that’s basketball. San Beda played a great game, so much respect for Coach Yuri Escueta and the guys out there. That was a tough, tough game and they prepared so well,” said the Blazers’ head coach Charles Tiu.

Oczon led Benilde with 17 big points built from an impressive 8/8 shooting from the free throw line to go alongside six rebounds, a steal, and one block.

Backstopping the cold-blooded guard was Jimboy Pasturan who buried four important three-pointers to finish with 16 points and six rebounds.

Meanwhile, Will Gozum, one of the frontrunners for this season’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) award, chipped in a double-double performance of 10 points and 11 rebounds.