FEU's Chris Tolomia challenges La Salle's Jeron Teng. Photo by Mark Cristino for ABS-CBNnews.com
MANILA (UPDATE 1) -- The Far Eastern University (FEU) Tamaraws rallied from an early deficit to stun defending champions De La Salle Green Archers, 82-77, in their first game of the UAAP Season 77 men's basketball tournament Saturday at the SMART Araneta Coliseum.
Mike Tolomia and Mac Belo took turns torching the Green Archers in the second half, with Tolomia issuing a crucial assist in the final minute to beat the defending champions in stunning fashion.
Tolomia finished with 23 points - 20 in the second half - while Belo added 20 before sitting out the final 46 seconds of the game due to cramps.
"It's not that I was doubting my players, kaya lang, going up against a very, very strong team like La Salle, sometimes, may doubts ka rin," FEU head coach Nash Racela said after the game.
"I never expected that we were gonna win this game," he added.
The Tamaraws went down 13 points after the first period, but recovered well in the second quarter and were down by just 4 points at halftime.
Early in the third quarter, it was Belo who struck repeatedly for the Tamaraws, driving into the lane and showing his athleticism by finishing over the big La Salle frontline. Later, it was Tolomia's turn, as the guard began to wax hot from the perimeter.
A fadeaway jumper by Tolomia over the out-stretched arms of La Salle's Almond Vosotros tied the game at 49-all, and a Carl Bryan Cruz triple gave FEU the lead for the first time in the contest.
It was a nip-and-tuck contest from that point, with Vosotros leading several La Salle players in the final period as they took back the lead. The Green Archers last held the lead at 69-67, after a free throw by Arnold Van Opstal.
Tolomia drilled a three-pointer with 4:30 left to take the lead for good, then added 2 free throws nearly a minute later to extend the lead, 72-69. La Salle repeatedly cut the lead, but FEU had an answer every time, including another huge three-pointer with 2:52 left to make it 75-71.
Tolomia also issued the biggest assist of the game, a dish to Cruz that essentially sealed the game, 81-77, with 29.2 seconds to go.
"Five assists," Racela said when asked to talk about Tolomia's performance. "Five assists, and I think, better shot selection today... He hit the more important shots. As a coach, sometimes ayaw mo 'yung tinira niya, but that's Mike Tolomia and sometimes you have to give him that."
La Salle did not help their cause as they missed several free throws in the final period, including two freebies by Norbert Torres with 21.3 seconds that could have cut into the deficit.
'LA SALLE MAY HAVE HELD BACK'
Racela did suggest, however, that La Salle head coach Juno Sauler may have held back his team quite a bit.
"I think, that's not the La Salle team," he said. "Hinatak ni Coach Juno ng koonti, kasi sobrang hype sa kanila. Sometimes, as a coach, that's a ploy. Good thing kami 'yung kalaban."
But Racela also added that for all the missed shots and miscues, La Salle were still within striking distance at the end-game.
"It just shows how powerful they are," Racela said, insisting that La Salle remains the team to beat this season. "We're just so thankful na naka-lusot kami. It was a surprise."
La Salle got off to a quick start with Arnold Van Opstal and Jason Perkins establishing themselves inside the paint, while the Tamaraws were jittery and only made their first field goal at the 5:21 mark of the paint.
The Green Archers led by a much as 13 points at the end of the first quarter, 23-10, as veteran guard Almond Vosotros scored five straight points to end the period.
FEU, after committing severall turnovers in the opening frame, cleaned up its act in the second quarter. Mac Belo began to assert himself, and Russell Escoto and Mike Tolomia also hit key baskets as the Tamaraws unleashed a 17-7 run to cut the La Salle lead to 3 points, 27-30.
La Salle claimed a 6-point advantage again after a Vosotros triple, 37-29, but FEU ended the first-half strong, with Raymar Jose and Belo hitting close range shots to enter halftime down by just 4 points, 33-37.
Vosotros finished the game with 18 points to lead La Salle, while Jeron Teng added 14 markers.
FEU 82 - Tolomia 23, Belo 20, Ru. Escoto 13, Cruz 11, Pogoy 6, Inigo 4, Jose 3, Hargrove 2, Tamsi 0, Dennison 0, Denila 0, Lee Yu 0, Ugsang 0, Ri. Escoto 0, David 0.
DLSU 77 0 - Vosotros 18, Teng 14, Perkins 11, T. Torres 9, Van Opstal 7, Montalbo 6, N. Torres 6, Sargent 2, Rivero 2, Andrada 0, Bolic 0, Mustre 0, Salem 0.
Quarter-scoring: 10-23, 33-37, 57-59, 82-77