MANILA, Philippines – Adamson University coach Franz Pumaren lamented the Soaring Falcons' "awful start" that all but doomed their chances against De La Salle University in their UAAP Season 80 game on Wednesday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
The Falcons had absolutely no answer for the returning Ben Mbala in the opening quarter, as the reigning UAAP MVP had 10 points in the first frame to give the Green Archers an overwhelming 36-12 advantage.
Adamson outscored La Salle, 61-49, in the final three frames, but their efforts were simply not enough to offset their horrendous start. The Green Archers held on for an 85-73 win, sending the Falcons to their second loss of the tournament.
"We had an awful start," Pumaren said. "I think that's the worst start for a team that I've handled."
The veteran tactician was proud of how his team clawed their way back, however, and noted that they forced La Salle to commit 26 turnovers in the game. "That's already a feat for us," Pumaren said.
The Soaring Falcons, he added, looked like a completely different team once they were able to settle down. In the third quarter in particular, they outscored La Salle, 28-15, and played with renewed aggression that led to 13 free throw attempts.
"It was a night and day difference," Pumaren said. "We clawed back when we were down by 24."
Indeed, it was only Mbala that they had no answer for. The Soaring Falcons were able to limit the rest of the Green Archers to only 53 points. Aljun Melecio, La Salle's leading scorer in their first two games, had only two markers in the game.
"We all know Mbala played his best game; this is his career-high," said Pumaren. "But you look at the whole La Salle – we were able to do a good job of shutting them down."
Adamson could have done a better job of limiting Mbala had their own foreign student-athlete, Papi Sarr, been playing at a higher level. Unfortunately for the Soaring Falcons, Sarr remains limited by a groin injury, and labored to a 12-point, 16-rebound performance. Pumaren said the center is playing at less than 70%.
Ultimately, the coach chalked up the loss to experience and to the trials of fielding in a relatively young squad.
"We should remember that we're a very young team," Pumaren said. "The veterans, they hardly played last season except for Papi. That's part of coaching a young team. We have to expect that sometimes, it will happen like that."
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