MANILA (2nd UPDATE) - The De La Salle Green Archers rallied from a 10-point deficit in the final quarter and stunned the Far Eastern University Tamaraws, 69-66, to win their playoff game for the last Final Four slot Wednesday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
With their victory, the Green Archers completed the Final Four cast of the UAAP Season 75 men's basketball tournament and will face their archrivals, the Ateneo Blue Eagles, on Saturday.
Norbert Torres scored 21 points, including 11 in the pivotal final quarter, and grabbed 13 rebounds as the Archers ended the game on a 19-6 run to oust the Tamaraws.
"Matagal na naming pinapangarap na makabalik sa Final Four," said La Salle head coach Gee Abanilla. "We have a golden chance to do it. We just refused to lose, that's the bottom line."
The Tamaraws started to pull away early in the fourth period, with Mark Bringas, Roger Pogoy and Anthony Hargrove all contributing to FEU's cause.
A lay-up by Hargrove in the 6:46 mark put the Tamaraws ahead by 10, 60-50, sending the FEU crowd into a frenzy.
But the Archers refused to let their season end. La Salle's defense tightened, forcing FEU into a series of hurried, ill-advised shots. On the other end, the Green Archers' scoring picked-up.
With Torres leading the way, the Archers scored 14 straight points. A three-pointer by Almond Vosotros cut FEU's lead to a single digit, 59-60, with 4:52 left in the game.
Fittingly, it was the hardworking Torres who scored the go-ahead lay-up with 2:27 to go, 61-60. He then completed a three-point play with 1:23 remaining to put La Salle up by four.
"I just tried to play with what the defense gave me," said Torres, who managed to outplay FEU's vaunted front line with help from Arnold Van Opstal and the graduating Jovet Mendoza.
"I didn't want it to be Josh (Webb) and Jovet's last game," he added.
The victory seemed at hand for the Archers when rookie point guard Thomas Torres scored on the break and was fouled by FEU's Terrence Romeo. The smaller Torres completed his own three-point play and the Archers were up 67-60 with only 38 seconds left.
But the Tamaraws refused to go quietly. Romeo drained a three-pointer, then former league Most Valuable Player RR Garcia also fired a three-pointer of his own after the Archers committed a turnover. That cut La Salle's lead to one, 66-67, with still 30 seconds to go.
"I told the boys not to panic," Abanilla said. "We were still up, all we needed was a good inbound... It's a good thing we were able to give the ball to one of our guys and they fouled, and that helped us."
The Archers nearly threw the ball away on consecutive inbounds, but managed to give the ball to Vosotros and Jeron Teng, who both split their charities.
The Tamaraws had their chances at the end of the game, but Mike Tolomia committed a traveling infraction and Romeo came up short on a 70-foot heave.
"Ang problema namin, 'yung execution sa end game," said FEU head coach Bert Flores, whose squad ended the season on a three-game losing streak. "Ten-point lead ka na, ayun na. Hindi lang talaga para sa amin."
Flores also defended his decision not to call a timeout when the Archers were making their stunning run in the fourth period.
"Lamang pa ako, tinitingnan ko, one point pa," he said. "Lamang pa ako, tapos nung magti-time out na ako biglang naka-offensive rebound."
Poor first half
The Tamaraws were in control in the first three quarters, as the Archers suffered a poor first half. Vosotros and LA Revilla, normally steady for La Salle, made several bad decisions while FEU took advantage with their outside sniping.
"I have to give credit to the defense of FEU. They were harassing our guards and denying them. Their defense was really physical," Abanilla said.
He added that his players were jittery in the first half because of sheer excitement.
"I think they were really excited about this. We didn't want to make them nervous because it's been a long time since we were in this position," he said.
Abanilla commended his players for responding in the second half, especially on the defensive end.
The Archers had a difficult third quarter, as they were forced to earn their points from the stripe. But in the final quarter, they held the Tams to only 14 points while scoring 23 of their own.
Flores once again rued his squad's poor ball-sharing, as the Tams only tallied 14 assists to 22 for La Salle. The Archers also out-rebounded the Tamaraws, 50-30, including 22-16 on the offensive end.
It was a sorry finish to the season for an FEU squad who last year made it to the Finals of the men's basketball tournament. At one point, they were at the top of the league standings but suffered a dip in form in the second half, especially after their controversial game against the National University Bulldogs which ended up being re-played.
It is the first time since Season 70 that the Tamaraws will not be in the Final Four.
Meanwhile, the Archers make it back to the Final Four after a one-year lay-off. They wound up in sixth place after the elimination round last season, a poor finish that triggered a wave of change in the basketball program, including the hiring of Abanilla.
Romeo finished with 13 points for the Tamaraws, while the graduating Mark Bringas added 12 points. Garcia wound up with eight markers and six dimes.
Teng, who is expected to be named as the Rookie of the Year, finished with 15 points and kept the Archers in the game in the first half.
DLSU 69 - N. Torres 21, Teng 15, Vosotros 9, Van Opstal 8, T. Torres 7, Mendoza 7, Andrada 2, Webb 0, Manguera 0, Tampus 0, Revilla 0
FEU 66 - Romeo 13, M. Bringas 12, Garcia 8, Hargrove 7, Mendoza 7, Pogoy 6, Belo 5, Escoto 4, Tolomia 2, A. Bringas 2, Sentcheu 0, Foronda 0, Cruz 0