MANILA, Philippines -- (UPDATED) Far Eastern University (FEU) recovered from a brutal third quarter to hand De La Salle University a 67-62 defeat, Tuesday morning at the Mall of Asia Arena.
It was a crucial victory for the Tamaraws, who hiked their record to 6-6 and boosted their Final 4 chances in the UAAP Season 84 men's basketball tournament. The Green Archers, meanwhile, absorbed a second straight defeat to fall to 7-5.
Rookie guard RJ Abarrientos led the way for the Tams with 21 points, while Xyrus Torres added 14 and Patrick Sleat scored 10. LJay Gonzales just missed out on a double-double with nine points and 10 rebounds.
FEU, after drilling 16 three-pointers in a rout of University of the East last Saturday, made 13 of their 27 attempts from long range against La Salle.
"At the half, sinabi ko sa kanila, na we have to play 40 minutes of great basketball to beat La Salle. Medyo we played a bad third quarter," said FEU coach Olsen Racela. "Luckily noong fourth quarter, we stepped it up defensively and we executed on offense. Getting the much-needed stops and much-needed baskets also."
The Tamaraws made eight three-pointers in the first half en route to a comfortable 42-29 lead, but their advantage evaporated in the third quarter. La Salle opened the period with 13 unanswered points to force the tie, and FEU's offense sputtered completely.
The Tams went an anemic 0-of-13 from the field in the third period, scoring only five points off free throws. A triple by Evan Nelle gave La Salle a 49-47 lead heading into the final quarter.
But Abarrientos recovered after being held scoreless in the second and third periods, firing the Tamaraws back into the lead. He assisted on the go-ahead triple by Xyrus Torres with 2:25 left for a 60-57 advantage.
After Kurt Lojera responded with a twinner on the other end, Abarrientos used an Emman Ojuola screen to break free for another triple that pushed their lead to four points, 63-59, with 1:34 left. The Tamaraws' defense held firm in La Salle's next possession, forcing a miss by Justine Baltazar, and Sleat iced the game with another three-pointer that made it 66-59 with under a minute to go.
"It was our execution down the stretch. Hindi malilibre si Patrick kung hindi maganda ang screens ng iba at hindi na-set-up ni LJay ng maayos. It was all about our execution," said Racela.
FEU has now won three consecutive games heading into a showdown against defending champion Ateneo de Manila University on Thursday. The Tamaraws are looking to extend a streak of seven consecutive Final 4 appearances.
Evan Nelle had 15 points, seven rebounds and five assists, while Justine Baltazar had a 13-point, 16-rebound double-double. But the Green Archers couldn't sustain their effort in the third, as they got out-scored, 20-13, in the final period.
La Salle missed the presence of swingman Schonny Winston, who sat out the contest.
FEU 67 -- Abarrientos 21, Torres 14, Sleat 10, Gonzales 9, Ojuola 4, Sajonia 3, Alforque 2, Tempra 2, Celzo 2, Sandagon 0, Bienes 0.
LA SALLE 62 -- Nelle 15, Baltazar 13, Lojera 10, M. Phillips 7, Nwankwo 6, Nonoy 4, Austria 4, Cuajao 3, Manuel 0, B. Phillips 0, Cu 0, Galman 0.
Quarters: 25-15, 42-29, 47-49, 67-62.