MANILA, Philippines – It took two years, but the UP Fighting Maroons finally won against the Adamson Soaring Falcons when it mattered the most.
In a do-or-die Final Four battle against the twice-to-beat Falcons, the Maroons won their first playoff match in 21 years, 73-71, off a game-winner by season MVP Bright Akhuetie.
They endured a 13-2 run in the waning moments by a resurgent Sean Manganti and Jerrick Ahanmisi, but held on just ever so barely for the heart-stopping win.
With every play from the opening tip to the final buzzer, the Mall of Asia Arena was rocking with the largest UP crowd in recent memory, easily dwarfing the season-long stronghold of Adamson “klasmeyts” in attendance.
Backed by fans chanting “Atin ‘to” (This is ours), Akhuetie’s game-winner off a pinpoint inbound pass from fellow Mythical Five member Juan Gomez de Liaño was just the icing on the cake.
EARLIER: Mythical Five connection. Juan Gomez de Liaño finds a wide-open Bright Akhuetie for the game-winning layup! #UAAPSeason81 @RapplerSports pic.twitter.com/vO3Y4xFDKo — JR Isaga (@JRnalistic) November 24, 2018
For head coach Bo Perasol, it was just unacceptable to hand that sea of maroon a season-ending loss.
“While the game was going on, you can’t help but hear the crowd. At the back of my mind, I thought ‘How can we disappoint these kind of people who are supporting us?'" he said in the post-game presser.
“I was actually praying for a good game that these people can be proud about. Winning against Adamson is not easy. We have things that we need to adjust when we go back to the drawing board.”
“My guys just made the play when it mattered," he continued. “Juan made a great pass to Bright, Paul [Desiderio] made that jump shot when it was needed, Juan again made those two crucial free throws. Everyone contributed.
"There was a time where we got ahead, and for sure everyone was thinking that we could’ve won it right away. But Adamson is not number 2 or [a 10-4 record-holder] for nothing. They’re a very resilient team. I kept on telling them that no matter what happens, we have to go through these kinds of games. We’re just blessed that we got out victorious tonight.”
Desiderio, who managed a huge 19-point bounceback in the 2nd half, also drew his strength from the record-breaking crowd.
“Sobrang nakakadagdag ng kumpiyansa, lalo na noong may times na nagra-rally,” said the graduating swingman. “Pero nakikita mo ‘yung UP community nag-cheer pa rin sa amin, doon kami kumukuha ng kumpiyansa sa kanila.”
(They boost my confidence so much, especially at the times where we rally. When you see the UP community still cheering for us, that’s where we get our confidence.)
But Desiderio knows this isn’t the biggest crowd he has played for.
“’Di pa, meron pa sa Wednesday.” (Not yet. We still have Wednesday.) – Rappler.com