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Letran bucks late Perpetual Help scare, stays in Final Four race

By Ivan Saldajeno

SAN JUAN, MM--A wild NCAA men's basketball Final Four race has just started to brew.

Letran continued its late playoff chase with a 69-63 victory over Perpetual Help at the FilOil Flying V Centre on Tuesday.

The Knights, who survived a 9-0 Altas run at the start and led by as much 15, beat the Altas despite a late drama.

Up 64-58 with 3:35 left in the game, Letran conceded a 5-0 Perpetual Help run a minute and a half later and even came close to conceding the lead after Bright Akhuetie blocked Bong Quinto's fastbreak threat.

However, Gab Dagangon failed to give the Altas the lead as his jumper rimmed out.

Rey Nambatac only made one of two free throws in his trip to the foul line with 55.9 seconds remaining to put the Knights up by only two, 65-63, but Daryl Singontiko muffed a potential go-ahead three in the next Altas play and missed another layup that would have tied the game after a defensive gem on the Knights.

Still, it was a one-possession game with a full shotclock left as JP Calvo could only make a split from the line as well.

But Nambatac came up with a huge steal off the inbound and swished another free throw to give Letran a four-point lead with 14.7 seconds left.

The team came up with another stop against Perpetual Help, and Jerrick Balanza nailed the insurance charities for the fulltime count.

Nambatac's crucial steal helped him save a 26-point performance from going down the drain as the Knights won for the third straight time and remained a full game behind the JRU Heavy Bombers, who stunned the San Beda Red Lions earlier Tuesday, and the Mapua Cardinals for fourth place.

Akhuetie had 15 points, 13 rebounds, and one block for the Altas, who failed to join the Arellano Chiefs, who eventually ousted the Lyceum Pirates from playoff contention, at the top of the standings. The Altas are a half-game behind the Red Lions for second place.

Box Scores:

Letran 69-Nambatac 26, Quinto 12, Sollano 11, Balanza 11, Apreku 4, Ambohot 4, Calvo 1, Bernabe 0, Balagasay 0, Sario 0, Pambid 0

Perpetual Help 63-Akhuetie 15, Coronel 12, Singontiko 8, Pido 8, Dagangon 7, Eze 6, Dizon 5, Sadiwa 2, Ylagan 0, Hao 0, Yuhico 0

Quarterscores: 13-13, 39-24, 54-47, 69-63

Follow him on Twitter: @IvanSaldajeno