MANILA, Philippines - Mac Belo tallied a career-high 23 points to go with 10 rebounds while Carl Cruz scored all of his 9 points in the fourth and in overtime - including the game-tying basket at the end of regulation and the jumper for the cushion in extra time - to propel the FEU Tamaraws past the NU Bulldogs, 74-70, in the men's basketball tournament of UAAP Season 77 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
"We have a lot of unsung heroes in our team. Sila Carl Cruz and Roger Pogoy na hindi masyado napapag-usapan because we always talk about Mac and Mike," FEU head coach Nash Racela gave due credit to his players who do the work without complaint. (Carl Cruz and Roger Pogoy who are never talked about because we always talk about Mac and Mike.)
"Our other players consistently deliver for us. If you look at the stats, the numbers won't really show but ang daming intangibles na binibigay nila. Not just those playing but even guys coming off the bench." (If you look at the stats, the numbers won't really show but they provide plenty of intangibles.)
He added, "Little contributions from everybody, in the end, it will help."
FEU's expected and unsung heroes rose to the occasion for Racela on Sunday, August 17, working quietly but efficiently all throughout the game.
In addition to having the game-high in points, Belo also made the effort to look for his open teammates as he dished out 3 assists. His unselfish play is a direct result of the trust FEU is developing within the team. And that, too, gives Belo confidence.
"Malaki naman ang trust namin sa isa't isa," said the soft-spoken Belo. "Umpisa pa lang yun na sinasabi ni coach." (We have huge trust in each other. That's what coach has been telling us since the start.)
Racela noted that trust is something they make an effort to nurture, apart from improving on a daily basis.
"The trust in the team is growing. That's very important, we improve every game and trust in each other. It will help us down the road."
Like a real hero, Cruz came alive when he was needed most and delivered the very difficult baseline jumper with a shade under a minute to play in regulation that knotted the count at 65 before Alfred Aroga (17 points, 5 rebounds) and Gelo Alolino (14 points, 7 rebounds) missed a hook shot and a long jumper to potentially win it for NU.
In the second overtime of the season, FEU quickly held the advantage and created some cushion, 70-67, on a split from the line by Cruz midway in the extra 5 minutes of play.
He later scored his 5th point in overtime on a jumper that stretched the Tams' lead to 72-68 with 19.3 seconds left.
Aroga immediately scored on the next possession as he was left free underneath, 72-70, with 13.2 on the clock before Belo iced the game with a pair of charities and notched the final score, 74-70.
"We really expected a close game today. We made our adjustments," Racela said, also commending his players for gutting it out in an overtime game.
"In the end, pag nakita mo itsura nila parang gusto na bumigay. Pag sinilip mo yung kabilang side (NU), pareho lang. It was fulfilling on our part as coaches that our players may nilabas pa during those situations."
(In the end, when you see our players they look like they want to give up. When you look at the other side, it's the same. It was fulfilling on our part as coaches to see that our players still had something to give during those situations.)
Despite the win and his team's rise to solo second in the standings at 6-2, Racela still sees plenty of inconsistencies in his team.
"Their inconsistency comes when we play tougher teams," he explained.
"What we're trying to correct is to play the same way regardless of who we play. Today we played a Final Four team and they delivered."
FEU has been steady against the Bulldogs as they swept NU in the eliminations.
"We're just looking for that consistency. Malapit na siguro." (We're nearly there.)
Mike Tolomia also delivered on offense with his 18 points. He also had 7 rebounds and 5 assists.
Roger Pogoy and Anthony Hargrove came up with 9 and 8 points, respectively.
For NU, Troy Rosario had 14 points and 7 rebounds while Nico Javelona contributed 8 markers.
FEU (74): Belo 23, Tolomia 18, Cruz 9, Pogoy 9, Hargrove 8, Jose 4, Iñigo 3, Tamsi 0, Dennison 0, Escoto 0, Denila 0.
NU (70): Aroga 17, Alolino 14, Rosario 14, Javelona 8, Alejandro 7, Khobuntin 4, Diputado 3, Perez 3, Betayene 0, Neypes 0.
Quarter scores: 16-16, 32-27, 53-50, 65-65, 74-70.