MANILA, Philippines—Far Eastern University was just eight minutes away from clinching at least a playoff for a spot in the UAAP Season 80 Final Four.
The Tamaraws had built a 79-64 advantage in the fourth quarter against National University, and they had the Bulldogs reeling. Hubert Cani was on fire from the perimeter, and Wendel Comboy had also gotten rhythm.
Unfortunately, it all fell apart for the Tamaraws from that point.
They had no answer for J-Jay Alejandro, who dissected their defense in the final eight minutes and scored 11 points and tallied two assists. Their offense also dried up at the worst possible time, with Cani and Arvin Tolentino firing blank after blank.
In the end, NU hacked out an 87-84 come-from-behind win, keeping its own Final Four hopes alive while dealing the Tams a stinging loss. Instead of being assured of a Final Four spot, they now have to win their last game of the elimination against Adamson University to secure a playoff berth.
"Masyado kaming nag-rely on offense," said FEU coach Olsen Racela after the costly defeat. "Fourth quarter, we just had to make stops. Ayun, we were up, and we let it slip away."
"Papahirapan pa namin ang sarili namin," he lamented. "We have to win our game against Adamson."
The way that FEU lost the game was especially brutal. The Tamaraws torched the Bulldogs for 11 three-pointers in the first half, and connected on a record 18 threes – the most in the league since 2003. But in the end, they could not buy a bucket: Tolentino got a good look at a triple in their final possession, but the ball only hit the back of the rim as time expired.
"We fell in love with the 3-point shot," Racela said bluntly. "Forty-two attempts is way too many."
"I told them at the half na defense will win it for us, pero hindi 'yun ang nangyari in the second half," he added.
Racela can take some solace in that they still have the inside track on the last spot in the Final Four. His alma mater, Ateneo de Manila University, outlasted University of the Philippines in the second game of the day. Thus, their 6-7 record assures them of a Final Four playoff.
"We need to focus on Saturday," he stressed. "Alam ko this is a devastating loss, pero not too low."
"Ganoon naman palagi," he explained. "I always tell them – not too high, and not too low."
"After a win, dapat 'di masyado nagse-celebrate. So after a loss, ganoon din. 'Wag ka masyado malungkot or apektado."
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