La Salle's Jeron Teng (21) attempts a reverse layup against NU's Alfred Aroga. Photo by Mark Cristino for ABS-CBNnews.com
MANILA, Philippines -- Jason Perkins made the big plays in crunch time as the De La Salle University Green Archers labored to their first win of the season by beating the National University (NU) Bulldogs, 57-55, Wednesday at the SM Mall of Asia Arena.
Perkins scored the last six points for La Salle and grabbed two crucial offensive rebounds to hold off the Bulldogs, who dropped their first game of the season after winning their first two assignments.
The defending champions Green Archers now have a 1-2 win-loss record, having lost their first two games of the season against Far Eastern University and Ateneo.
"I think we stepped up defensively," said La Salle coach Juno Sauler, noting that they gave up over 80 points to Ateneo and FEU in their losses.
But he also emphasized that they "can't celebrate" just yet. "It's too early," he added.
La Salle's defense held NU scoreless for nearly three minutes late in the final period, and free throws from Perkins and a Norbert Torres lay-up gave them a 53-49 lead with a little over two minutes left.
NU was able to cut into the deficit via a Troy Rosario basket with 59.4 seconds left, but the big man could not convert the bonus free throw that could have made it a one-point game.
Perkins then scored a huge bucket when he grabbed the rebound off a missed shot by Jeron Teng and laid the ball back in to give La Salle a 55-51 advantage with 36.6 seconds left in the game.
The Bulldogs still had a chance after Alfred Aroga drove baseline and converted a lay-up with 30.9 seconds left, and then forced a wild shot by Norbert Torres with 8.7 seconds to go in the game.
With just 1.9 seconds left in the shotclock, Sauler called his final timeout. In the ensuing play, Teng was able to find Perkins underneath the basket, who muscled his way up for a lay-up that dashed the Bulldogs' chances of a comeback, 57-53.
"It took a while for the play to develop," said Sauler. "But Jeron was patient, and he was able to find Jason underneath. We were lucky there. We were lucky."
NU point guard Gelo Alolino scored a floater at the buzzer to peg the final score at 57-55.
The Green Archers came out on top in the slow, grind-it-out contest thanks in part to their big men line-up of Perkins, Arnold Van Opstal and Norbert Torres, who helped them gain a cushion in the second period.
With the three bigs in the game at the same time, the Archers reeled off nine consecutive points in the second frame to take a 28-21 advantage.
La Salle led by nine points, 45-36, with over three minutes to go in the third period following back-to-back jumpers by Almond Vosotros. Yet NU clawed its way back into the contest with Kyle Neypes, Rev Diputado and Glenn Khobuntin barging their way into the paint for lay-ups.
NU took the lead when Rosario - who struggled with foul trouble all game long - nailed a one-dribble pull-up with 7:25 to go in the fourth to make it 47-46. A Torres lay-up with 5:08 to go briefly gave the lead back to DLSU, but Rosario drained a long jumper to give NU their last lead of the game, 49-48, with 4:07 left.
The La Salle defense clamped down at that point, however, forcing the NU players to take wild shots and commit turnovers.
The Green Archers were playing without injured point guard Thomas Torres, who suffered a foot injury and is out for at least six weeks, and Sauler admitted that his team is still adjusting to the guard's absence.
"We still have to find ways to execute things, especially with the injury of Thomas Torres," he said. "We're still trying to find out what we can do and how we can play without him."
Perkins finished with 14 points for La Salle, while Torres scored 13 points and grabbed a team-high eight rebounds. Teng finished with nine points, six boards and five assists.
Aroga led NU with 12 points and nine boards, while Rosario finished with 10 points and eight rebounds. But Alolino, usually a steady point guard, had only nine points in the game and visibly struggled, even getting called for an offensive foul at a crucial juncture of the fourth period.
DLSU 57 - Perkins 14, Torres 13, Teng 9, Van Opstal 7, Vosotros 7, Andrada 3, Montablo 2, Rivero 2, Bolick 0.
NU 55 - Aroga 12, Rosario 10, Alolino 9, Khobuntin 9, Javelona 5, Diputado 4, Alejandro 3, Neypes 2, Perez 1, Betayena 0, Atangan 0, Celda 0, Salim 0.
Quarter-scores: 12-16, 35-29, 45-43, 57-55