Checkmate: Jiovani Jalalon falls into Letran’s trap

Arellano U star playmaker Jiovani Jalalon felt the Chiefs paid a stiff price for being lulled into a false sense of complacency in the course of a 79-89 setback dealt by reigning titlist Letran on Thursday night at The Arena in San Juan.

The loss gave them an early reality check that their title chase in the 92nd NCAA seniors baseball tourney won’t be easier than what most believe.

Coming off a two-week break, the Chiefs were far from the sharp form seen from them in their first two victories as they struggled early on and ran out of steam during their expected fightback, no thanks to the Knights’ steely resolve and sustained defensive pressure.

And the 5-foot-10 Jalalon was humbly enough to admit what went wrong.

“Masyado kaming kumpiyansa sa sarili namin kasi kagagaling sa dalawang panalo. Iniisip namin na kaya namin sila pero iba ‘yung ipinakita ng Letran sa amin,” he said.

Jalalon, considered by many as the finest amateur playmaker today, found his match against the Knights’ solid backcourt tandem of McJour Luib and Rey Nambatac as he struggled to come up with a 17-point output on 6-of-20 shooting from the field while playing for almost 37 minutes, including the entire second half.

“Ang galing rin ng depensa nila ngayon. Hindi ako maka create ng maayos. ‘Pag da-drive ako, may help ‘D’ agad. Kaya kini-kickout ko na lang talaga,” he said, adding fatigue also took its toll on him during the stretch.

“Nung huli, na-feel ko na ‘yung pressure at pagod. Mali rin siguro ng mga coaches na hindi nila ako nilabas. Humihingi na ako ng kapalit nu’ng fourth kaso sabi ni (Kent) Salado, ‘Wag na. Baka lalo tayong matambakan.’ Kaya pinipilit ko na talaga ang sarili ko,” Jalalon admitted.

“Na-pressure na rin ako nu’ng fourth nang lumamang sila ng six, eight (points). Inisip ko na lang sarili ko kaya pinipilit ko na.”

Aside from the Knights’ defensive intensity, Jalalon also felt the Chiefs’ frontline failed to size themselves up to their counterparts, led by Letran’s undersized center Felix Apreku who hauled down a personal-best of 17 rebounds, including five on the offensive end.

“‘Yung defensive rotation namin kulang at hindi pagba-box out kay Apreku,” he rued. “Rotation namin nagkulang. Halos lahat ng big man, ayaw tumakbo. Lagi naman namin pina-practice ‘yung closeout namin kaso wala talaga. Tinatamad siguro ang mga big man namin.”

Up next in their three-game ‘killer stretch’ is formidable Mapua on Tuesday and Jalalon believes the Chiefs have no other choice but to get back on track.

“Lesson learned lang talaga ‘to para sa amin. Tuesday may laro kami against Mapua, babawi kami dyan kasi kailangan namin,” he said. – By Jerome Lagunzad

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