MANILA, Philippines -- (UPDATE 1) Kevin Ferrer recovered from a poor opening game to tow the University of Santo Tomas (UST) Growling Tigers past the Far Eastern University (FEU) Tamaraws, 69-67, in the UAAP Season 77 men's basketball tournament Sunday at the Araneta Coliseum.
Ferrer, who struggled in UST's first game of the season against National University (NU), hit back-to-back triples late in the fourth quarter and came up with a huge steal to power the Tigers to their first victory of the season.
Ferrer only scored five points and had seven turnovers against NU last week, but came up big in crunch time against the Tamaraws and was seen several times exhorting his teammates in huddles. He finished with 18 points in the contest.
"Ang nasa isip ko, kailangan kong bumawi," said Ferrer. "Hindi ako bibitaw. Pinakita ko rin naman sa training na kailangan kong i-lift up 'yung team, kailangan kong dalhin at i-lead."
"Awa ng Diyos, na lead ko nga," he added.
After an Achie Inigo bucket put FEU on top 62-59, a putback by Karim Abdul cut the lead to single digits.
That was when Ferrer took over, drilling back-to-back three-pointers to give the Tigers a lead that they would never relinquish.
After a Russell Escoto triple made it a one-possession game, Ferrer made plays on the other end of the floor, coming up with a loose ball after a bad pass by Mike Tolomia, then intercepting another errant FEU pass with 28 seconds left. His steal led to an open lay-up by Kent Lao that sealed the game for the Tigers.
UST head coach Bong Dela Cruz, who admitted that they executed poorly in their loss to NU last game, was much happier with his players' effort this time around.
"Nag-prepare kami for this game, so na-execute namin ang game plan, at nag-deliver 'yung mga bata," said Dela Cruz. "Napag-usapan namin 'yung mga mistakes sa last game, so ngayon, pinakita nila kung paano maglaro ang Tigers."
Both teams started on a sloppy note, with the fast pace of the game in the first quarter leading to rushed shots and turnovers from both sides. The Tiers started to settle down in the second frame, working the ball inside to Abdul, who was able to score from close range.
The Tigers took a double-digit lead, 31-21, off an Ed Daquiaog lay-up following a nifty touch pass from Louie Vigil, but FEU ended the half strong, as Carl Bryan Cruz and Escoto conspired to score five straight points.
Ferrer, at that point, called his teammates into a huddle before they entered the dugout.
"Sinabi ko na hindi pa tapos 'yung laro," said Ferrer, who is in his fourth playing year for UST. "Ituloy namin 'yung intensity, 'yung pinapakita namin ay mas lalo naming dagdagan, at wag mag-relax."
Despite Ferrer's efforts, it was FEU who started the second half on a bright note, with Mac Belo's slam dunk triggering a 12-2 run that allowed FEU to take a 38-35 lead.
It was a nip-and-tuck game from that point, as the two squads continued to play at a fast pace. Lao, buried in the bench in their game against NU, came up with eight points in the third frame to help keep UST ahead, and merited the playing time that Dela Cruz gave him in the fourth.
"Inaamin ko, last game nakalimutan ko si Kent Lao," said Dela Cruz. "Nawala sa rotation ko si Kent Lao. Kinausap ko siya na nagkamali ako, at kailangan ko siya sa game."
Lao's strong play relegated veteran Aljon Mariano - who struggled for the second consecutive contest - to seat on the bench at crunch time.
"Maganda 'yung laro ni Kent Lao, so kailangan ko siya ibalik. Si Aljon, naandoon siya, pero feel ko mas kailangan ko si Kent, and nag-deliver siya," said Dela Cruz.
It looked as though FEU would soar to a second straight win as Belo scored six points in the fourth quarter and assisted on another FEU field goal, giving the Tams a 58-53 lead.
But Ferrer's floater off an inbound pass ended UST's drought, and Lao repaid Dela Cruz's faith with a baseline jumper to cut the deficit to one point, 57-58. A circus lay-up by FEU's Tolomia briefly extended the lead to three, 60-57, but it would be the last highlight for the Tamaraws in the game as Ferrer went on to steal the show.
"Siyempre ang pressure, palaging nand'yan, so after ng first game dumoble 'yung pressure noong natalo kami," dela Cruz said. "This time, nanalo kami, so nawala 'yung pressure."
Both the Tigers and the Tamaraws now have a 1-1 record.
Belo led the way for FEU with 19 points, and Tolomia added 14 markers. But they could not replicate the crunch time heroics that they achieved against La Salle in their first game.
UST 69 - Ferrer 18, Abdul 16, Lao 14, Subido 6, Daquioag 5, Mariano 4, Vigil 4, Sheriff 2, Basibas 0, Gayosa 0, Lo 0, Pe 0
FEU 67 - Belo 19, Tolomia 14, Escoto 8, Hargrove 8, Tamsi 5, Inigo 5, Cruz 4, Jose 2, Dennison 2, Delfinado 0, Pogoy 0, Denila 0, Ri. Escoto 0, David 0
Quarter-scoring: 12-13, 31-26, 53-50, 69-67