La Salle's Jeron Teng squeezes past two FEU defenders. Photo by Mark Cristino for ABS-CBNnews.com
MANILA (UPDATE 1) -- Mike Tolomia shone in the final seconds for Far Eastern University (FEU) as the Tamaraws outlasted defending champions La Salle, 74-70, and snapped the Green Archers' winning streak in the UAAP Season 77 men's basketball tournament Wednesday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Tolomia split his charities with 7.3 seconds left to give FEU a 72-70 lead, but made a remarkable heads-up play as he grabbed his own miss and quickly scored a lay-up to put his team on top 74-70.
"Instinct na lang 'yun ni Mike," FEU head coach Nash Racela, noting that the play was a gamble for his star guard. "Sometimes, you just have to trust your instincts."
The Green Archers had rallied from an 8-point deficit with less than 3 minutes left but failed to box out Tolomia in the crucial possession and saw their 7-game winning streak snapped in heartbreaking fashion.
With their victory, the Tamaraws have now taken the top spot in the league standings with an 8-2 win-loss record. La Salle dropped to 7-3, tied with Ateneo and National University for second to fourth places.
"Nothing is guaranteed yet," Racela said even as the Tamaraws move closer to a Final Four spot. "We just need to focus on the next game and try to win more games."
FEU had a sluggish start in the contest and trailed by 9 at the half, 26-35, but came alive in the third period with Tolomia scoring 10 points in that quarter alone.
They took a 52-51 lead into the final quarter, then got big baskets from their role players including Achie Inigo and Roger Pogoy while big man Mac Belo took care of the boards in the final quarter.
The Tamaraws built a 69-61 lead off a Belo finger roll with 2:55 to go, but saw their lead all but disappear as La Salle reeled off 7 unanswered points capped by a put-back from Norbert Torres off a Jason Perkins miss.
Tolomia, however, shone in the clutch, getting a crucial steal off La Salle's Almond Vosotros in the final 30 seconds and forcing the Green Archers to commit a foul, then calmly drained two free throws with 14.8 seconds left to put his team on top, 71-68.
Jeron Teng, who scored 28 points in the game, cut the lead to just 1 point with a powerful drive to the basket, but the Green Archers were forced to foul Tolomia in the final seconds.
Tolomia made the first and missed the second, but to the surprise of many, he was able to get his own rebound and convert the lay-up that gave the Tamaraws enough of a cushion in the final seconds.
GOING AWAY GIFT
It was a perfect going away gift from the Tamaraws to Racela, who leaves late Wednesday evening for Spain to join the Philippine national basketball team in time for the 2014 FIBA World Cup.
"That's actually the objective - to get a win today. Ang hirap kasi, if you travel for 20 hours, tapos talo ka. Baka hindi ako makatulog for 20 hours just thinking about the game," Racela joked. "So eto, medyo ayos."
In the first half, at least it seemed as though Racela would leave for Spain in a cloud of disappointment as the Green Archers outplayed the Tamaraws.
After taking a slim 16-15 lead at the end of the first quarter, La Salle broke away midway through the second period via a 9-2 run capped by two Teng free throws that allowed them to take a 35-23 lead.
Racela repeatedly shuffled his line-up in a search for an effective combination, but La Salle was still able to take control of the game in the first half thanks to a 35-20 advantage on the boards, including 12 offensive boards.
"We were tentative in the first half," Racela said of his players, who shot only 27% in the first two quarters. "It was very obvious na tentative sila. I don't know why. Maybe because we played a perceived finalist."
"I needed their help to counter that," he stressed. "We cannot be tentative, especially going up against a very, very strong team like La Salle."
Tolomia finished with a team-high 22 points, 19 of which came in the second half as he spurred the FEU rally. Belo struggled from the field as he made only 5 of 13 field goals, but still finished with 11 points and 8 boards.
Meanwhile, Teng had 28 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 assists in the losing effort, while Torres had a double-double of 13 points and 10 rebounds. Teng made half of his 22 field goal attempts, but the other Archers struggled, and as a team, they finished the game shooting 35%.
FEU has now beaten La Salle twice this season, as the Tamaraws also won their first round encounter 82-77.
FEU 74 - Tolomia 22, Belo 11, Inigo 10, Pogoy 7, Escoto 7, Jose 5, Cruz 4, Hargrove 4, Tamsi 4, Dennison 0, Ugsang 0.
DLSU 70 - Teng 28, Torres 13, Perkins 8, Vosotros 7, Van Opstal 5, Sargent 4, Montalbo 3, Rivero 2, Bolick 0, Andrada 0, Tratter 0.
Quarter-scoring: 15-19, 26-35, 52-51, 74-70.