MANILA, Philippines - The Far Eastern University Tamaraws won their fourth game in Season 77 of the UAAP senior's basketball tournament by surviving a late comeback attempt by the National University Bulldogs, 71-62, on Saturday evening, August 9, at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Carl Cruz had a career-high 16 points to lead FEU, which also received 14 markers from Achie Inigo and 10 markers, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists from Mike Tolomia.
NU, on the other hand, was led by Gelo Alonino and his 13 points. Glenn Khobuntin also pitched in, registering 9 markers and 8 boards.
"I think it was the most crucial game for us," FEU head coach Nash Racela said after the game. "The players knew how important the game was. That's why from the very beginning, I think the focus was there, the effort was there."
After getting the lead down to as much as 12 in the third quarter, NU once again stared at an 18-point deficit following a 3-ball by Inigo and three-point conversion by Anthony Hargrove.
However, the unrelenting Bulldogs fired back, using a three-pointer by Alonino and slam dunk by Troy Rosario to kick-off a 12-0 run that cut FEU's edge to six, 60-54, with 6:49 to go in the game.
The Bulldogs had a chance to cut the lead to two late in the contest, but Neypes missed both his charities. The Tamaraws were then able to get easy trips to the line, and extended the lead back to eight after a Tolomia basket, 67-59.
With 42 seconds left, Tolomia had the ball again, a chance to put National U down for good on the line. After attacking the basket and drawing the defense, the veteran playmaker found an open Hargrove, who made the layup and put the game out for good, 69-62.
The Tamaraws improve to 4-2, and will look to close out their first round with a win over the Adamson Soaring Falcons on Wednesday, August 13. The Bulldogs, on the other hand, finish the first round at 5-2.
"It is very clear that we are very capable of beating other teams," Coach Racela added in the post game media session. "If matalo kami (if we lose), it's because of us."
"Kung may tatalo saamin, it's us," he noted a second time. (If someone's going to beat us, it's going to be us.)
Both squads were accurate on offense to start the game. On FEU's side, Belo and Cruz took care of the early scoring load while Khobuntin did the same for National U. With 4:40 left in the first period, the Tamaraws were ahead, 11-10.
Thanks to two straight 3-balls by Cruz, FEU managed to create some breathing room from their opponents. NU then fell asleep on two straight defensive possessions, leaving an open RR Pogoy on both instances for easy baskets, 21-13.
"Tolomia and (Mac) Belo did not score much today, so it was the turn of the other players," Coach Racela noted.
The Bulldogs managed to get some points at the free throw line before the end of the first quarter, though Coach Eric Altamirano's troops still trailed by five entering the second period.
The Tamaraws' defense managed to limit NU's scoring in the early goings of the second quarter, despite quality ball movement from the latter. On offense, FEU began to make almost all their attempts, as different guys contributed points on the scoreboard.
After Inigo hit his second three-pointer, Coach Altamirano called for time-out, with the score reading 38-20, Tamaraws. However, the game stoppage didn't make a difference, as Far Eastern University stayed hot from the floor and rode a 42-22 lead to the half.
After committing 10 turnovers in the first half, NU turned to a press in the third quarter in hopes of forcing FEU into making miscues. On offense, the Bulldogs were able to build some momentum after a triple by Rev Diputado cut the lead to 18. However, Inigo quickly provided a response by hitting a long-range shot of his own, 48-27.
NU's press started to shift the tide of the game, as the Bulldogs managed to get the lead down to as much as 12 in the third period. FEU, taking advantage of being in the bonus, used consecutive trips to the free throw line to maintain a double-digit lead entering the game's final quarter.