FEU's Mac Belo (L) goes to the basket against NU's Jeth Rosario (R). Photo by Mark Cristino for ABS-CBNnews.com
MANILA, Philippines -- (UPDATE 1) Veteran forward Carl Bryan Cruz hit the big shots at the end of regulation and in overtime as the Far Eastern University (FEU) Tamaraws outlasted the National University (NU) Bulldogs, 74-70, in the UAAP Season 77 men's basketball tournament Sunday at the Araneta Coliseum.
Cruz scored on a baseline jumper over the outstretched arms of NU center Alfred Aroga to tie the game at 65-all with less than a minute to go. Then, FEU's defense forced NU point guard Gelo Alolino to mishandle the ball in their final possesssion, sending the game into overtime.
Anthony Hargrove gave FEU a one-point lead off a free throw, 66-65, before Cruz scored on another baseline jumper to make it 68-65 with 3:42 left.
It was also Cruz who scored the game-clinching bucket, another midrange jump shot with less than 20 seconds to go to make it 72-68. His field goal gave the Tamaraws enough of a cushion despite Aroga's last-gasp lay-up with 13.2 seconds to go for NU.
"We have a lot of unsung heroes," FEU head coach Nash Racela said after the game. "Sila Bryan Cruz, sila Roger Pogoy, hindi sila napag-uusapan because we always talk about Mac (Belo) and Mike (Tolomia), but 'yung mga ibang players namin, they deliver for us."
Cruz finished with nine points, seven of which came in the final minute of regulation and in overtime. Big man Belo led the way for the Tamaraws with a double-double performance of 23 points and 10 rebounds, and Tolomia added 18 points, seven boards, and five assists.
FEU now has a 6-2 win-loss record in the tournament and holds two victories over NU, having beaten the Bulldogs, 71-62, in their encounter in the first round.
"We knew that NU will make their adjustment," said Racela. "So we really expected a close game today. They adjusted very well, and we made our adjustments as well."
"In the end, it was just 'yung players nila versus our players... our players delivered," he added. "It was fulfilling on our part as coaches na ang players namin ay may nilabas pa during those situations."
It was a tightly contested game right from the start, and NU's 50-43 lead with 2:24 to go in the third quarter seemed a luxury for the Bulldogs until the Tamaraws erased it with a 10-0 scoring run to end the quarter.
The Tamaraws held a slim lead at the early goings of the fourth quarter as Tolomia hit a fast-break lay-up and then a difficult step-back jumper to keep FEU ahead by one point, 57-56 and 59-58, despite the efforts of NU's Troy Rosario.
NU was finally able to take the lead, 60-59, when Alolino converted on a floater, but it proved to be short-lived as Belo fished for a foul on the other end and canned both his free throws.
The Bulldogs took their last lead of the contest when Alolino drained a difficult three-pointer with the shot-clock running down, giving his team a 65-63 lead with 1:11 to go. Out of a timeout, however, FEU was able to work the ball to Cruz, who splashed his jumper over Aroga to tie the game, 65-all.
Both teams still had chances to win in regulation but Aroga missed a lay-up for NU, and Cruz also misfired on a basket on the other end. In the final possession, Alolino wasted away the shot clock only to bobble the ball and miss his attempt.
Racela has made no secret of his desire to see more consistency from his players, and believes they are getting closer towards their goal.
"What we're trying to correct is, we will play the same way regardless of who we play," he said. "Today, we played a Final Four contender, and nag-deliver sila. We're just looking for that consistency, and malapit na siguro."
FEU took an early 9-2 lead with NU committing unforced turnovers thanks to foreign big man Aroga, who was called for traveling in consecutive possesssions. The Bulldogs shot their way back in the game by finding their mark from beyond the arc, with Paolo Javelona and Rev Diputado both scoring triples in the second period.
Both teams continued to turn the ball over in the second period, although they also started shooting better from the field. FEU's Belo, after a slow start, found his mark in the second frame and helped the Tamaraws build a five-point lead at half time, 32-27.
The deficit could have been smaller had NU been able to take advantage of FEU's 11 turnovers, as the Bulldogs only registered five turnover points in the first half. They did not help their cause as they committed 15 turnovers of their own, leading to 11 FEU points.
Three players scored in double-digits for NU, led by Aroga with 17 points, and Rosario and Alolino, who scored 14 each. The Bulldogs' record dropped to 5-3, and they have now lost consecutive games -- both at the hands of the Tamaraws.
FEU 74 - Belo 23, Tolomia 18, Cruz 9, Pogoy 9, Hargrove 8, Jose 4, Inigo 3, Dennison 0, Escoto 0, Tamsi 0, Denila 0.
NU 70 - Aroga 17, Rosario 14, Alolino 14, Javelona 8, Alejandro 7, Khobuntin 4, Diputado 3, Perez 3, Neypes 0, Betayene 0.
Quarter-scoring: 16-16, 32-27, 53-50, 65-65, 74-70