MANILA, Philippines – The stat sheet shows that National University (NU) forward Matt Salem played barely a minute in their UAAP Season 80 game against Far Eastern University (FEU), and went scoreless after missing the lone field goal – a three-pointer – that he took.
For his teammates, however, Salem's impact went far beyond the box score.
Salem had missed the Bulldogs' past two games due to dengue fever, and had just barely returned to practice before NU was set to play the Tamaraws in a game that could make or break their Final Four hopes this season.
"I told coach, I messaged him today, saying that if he needs me, I'll be ready to play," said Salem. "I was able to do body workout on Monday and Tuesday, and a little bit of jogging."
Salem obviously was far from his best. After entering the game with a minute left in the second quarter, his teammates found him wide open for a corner triple. His attempt didn't even make it to the rim: it hit the side of the backboard.
"It wasn't the best shot," admitted Salem after the game.
Yet the graduating forward was hopeful that by simply stepping onto the court and taking a shot, he had served as a source of inspiration for his teammates.
"I hope I gave them (an emotional lift)," said Salem. "They were already motivated about winning for me. That was really a lot. I hope I inspired them a little bit more."
According to NU guard J-Jay Alejandro, Salem did in fact serve as their inspiration for the game. The 50 seconds that Salem played against the Tamaraws were not enough: Alejandro wants a full-strength Salem to play in the Final Four with them.
It was Alejandro who took charge for NU in the end game, as he scored 11 of his 17 points in the final quarter to power the Bulldogs to a thrilling 87-84 comeback win.
"If we lose, I don't have a chance to play in the Final Four," said Alejandro, who like Salem is in his final playing year. "Gusto namin makita pa si Matt Salem maglaro sa Final Four. He's gonna be ready in the Final Four."
"We're playing with a lot of inspiration from our captain Matt," he confirmed.
Salem, for his part, said he is simply thankful for his teammates. "I'm blessed with having great teammates," he said.
"When they just told me and the coaching staff told me that they want to do it for me, it really touched me," he added. "So we're just going to go on our next game together, 16 strong with our coaching staff, and do our best."
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