MANILA, Philippines -- The Far Eastern University (FEU) Tamaraws needed to regain their composure after an awful third quarter against De La Salle University on Tuesday afternoon.
The Tamaraws saw a 42-29 halftime lead disappear, as they scored a paltry five points in the period while giving up 20 points to the Green Archers. In the face of the aggressive La Salle press, the Tams committed seven turnovers and missed all 13 of the field goals they took in the quarter
Only free throws by Emmanuel Ojuola and LJay Gonzales kept the Tamaraws from going scoreless in the frame.
"We played a bad third quarter," FEU coach Olsen Racela said bluntly after the game, which they still won, 67-62.
They fell behind, 49-47, entering the final period after a triple by Evan Nelle to end the third. Fortunately for FEU, they had 10 more minutes to recover and regain their bearings. A message from Racela in between quarters helped them stay on an even keel after an ice cold performance that could have dampened their spirits.
"We always talk about it -- the next play mentality," the coach explained. "Sinabi ko sa kanila, it doesn't matter if you made a basket or you made a good assist. You focus on the next play."
"It's the same thing. 'Pag masama ang tira, hindi ka naka-shoot or nag-foul ka, or bad turnover, you focus on the next play," he added. "So 'yun ang sinabi ko rin sa kanila going to the fourth quarter. Tapos na 'yung third quarter, we just focus on what's ahead of us, the fourth quarter."
The Tamaraws took their coach's words to heart in the fourth frame, where they ramped up their aggression on both ends of the floor. Rookie guard RJ Abarrientos, silenced in the second and third after a hot start, fired eight points in the period, while Xyrus Torres made two crucial three-pointers -- including the go-ahead long-range bomb with 2:25 to play in the game.
After missing all 13 of their field goals in the third, FEU went 7-of-16 in the fourth quarter. Five of those field goals were three-pointers -- the last of which was a dagger by Patrick Sleat with under a minute to play in the game.
"I think they stepped up and really played well in the fourth quarter," said Racela.
"Noong fourth quarter, we stepped it up defensively and we executed on offense. Getting the much-needed stops and much-needed baskets also," he also said.
The big shots of Abarrientos and Torres will get the spotlight, but Racela stressed that a team effort got them the win. He noted that Ojuola set a massive screen that freed up Torres for his three-pointer, while LJay Gonzales broke down the La Salle defense that left Sleat wide-open for the dagger.
"It was all about our execution, which we have been practicing, really, in the past days," he said.
The Tamaraws now have a 6-6 win-loss record, putting them at solo fourth and keeping them within striking distance of La Salle for the third seed. It's also a boost of confidence for FEU heading into a crucial game against defending champion Ateneo de Manila University on Thursday afternoon.
"Right now, it's within reach," Racela said of their Final 4 goal. "Hindi namin masyadong pinapansin 'yung mga ibang teams. Really, ang inaalala lang namin right now is 'yung sarili namin."
"If we take care of our games, if we take care of business, we will get to the Final 4, hindi namin kailangan ng tulong ng ibang teams," he added.