MANILA, Philippines -- (UPDATE 1) The Far Eastern University (FEU) Tamaraws escaped the upset axe as they outlasted the University of the Philippines (UP) Fighting Maroons, 75-69, in the UAAP Season 77 men's basketball tournament Saturday at the Araneta Coliseum.
With star guard Mike Tolomia already having fouled out, it was back-up guard Achie Inigo who drilled the go-ahead three-pointer for FEU with 1:41 to go, giving them a 71-69 lead.
Rookie guard Diego Dario had given UP its last advantage of the game, 69-68, just moments earlier but the Maroons could not close out on Inigo.
"Pinagdadasal ko talaga na 'yung tira ni Achie ay pumasok," joked FEU assistant coach Eric Gonzales, who was in charge of the team with head coach Nash Racela in Spain to attend to his duties with the Gilas Pilipinas national team.
Mac Belo drained a jump shot with 1:12 left to extend FEU's lead, and Inigo made two insurance free throws with 35 seconds left to end UP's hopes of making a comeback.
FEU has now won six consecutive games to hike their win-loss record to 9-2 and remain on top of the league standings. The Tamaraws are now also assured of at least a playoff for a slot in the Final Four. Gonzales, however, insists that the Tamaraws cannot yet be satisfied with where they are now.
"Sabi ko kay Coach Nash, kailangan manalo tayo ng apat, ibig sabihin, kasama ang Ateneo," said Gonzales, noting that 11 wins will likely mean a triple tie. "Ayaw namin ng triple tie. Gusto namin, seeded kami sa top two with a twice-to-beat advantage."
Tolomia finished the game with 19 points and five rebounds, but fouled out with 3:12 remaining in the fourth quarter. Belo struggled initially, but still finished with 14 points and seven boards. Inigo had eight points and 10 rebounds.
Gonzales however noted that once again, the Tamaraws showed their inconsistency as they played down to the level of their competition.
"Sa akin, ako ay masaya pero may halong, alam mo na, may kailangan pa kaming gawin talaga sa team," he said.
It was a back-and-forth game especially in the second half as the two teams were tied seven times and exchanged leads 12 times. The Tamaraws took a seemingly comfortable 53-46 lead with two minutes left in the third quarter, only to see UP's Dario and Dave Moralde drain back-to-back free throws to all but erase the deficit.
FEU and UP exchanged leads throughout the final period,, with Mark Juruena coming up with key baskets for the Fighting Maroons. The Tamaraws took a 68-64 lead thanks to Belo and Joel Lee Yu, but the Maroons responded with a 5-0 blast capped by Dario's booming triple with 2:02 remaining.
It proved to be UP's last hurrah, however, as the Tamaraws ended the game on a 7-0 run to snatch the victory.
UP was led by forward JR Gallarza, who scored 18 points and made all but two of his field goal attempts. Reyes added 14 points, but made only five of his 21 field goals, and Dario finished with 10 markers.
The game was tied 35-all at halftime after the Maroons recovered from a 10-point deficit at the start of the second period. The Tamaraws were able to build a 28-18 lead after three-pointers from Joel Lee Yu, Carl Bryan Cruz, and Roger Pogoy, all of which were wide-open as FEU showed great ball movement.
UP however clawed its way back in the game as Gallarza continued to wax hot from beyond the arc, while guard Mikee Reyes overcame two early airballs to eventually help his team snatch the lead.
The Maroons unleashed a 17-4 run capped by two Gallarza free throws to take a 35-32 lead with less than a minute to go in the second quarter, but Pogoy was able to tie the game after drilling a three-pointer off a Mike Tolomia assist with a shade under 30 seconds to go in the half.
FEU outrebounded UP, 50-38, and held the Maroons to only 32% from the field while shooting nearly 43% themselves.