MANILA, Philippines -- (UPDATED) In a defensive grind, De La Salle University found enough offense to hack out a 64-51 victory against Adamson University, Thursday afternoon at the Mall of Asia Arena.
The Green Archers snapped a two-game losing skid to improve to 8-5. More importantly, they secured their spot in the Final 4 of the UAAP Season 84 men's basketball tournament.
This is La Salle's first Final 4 appearance since Season 80, when they made it all the way to the finals behind two-time Most Valuable Player Ben Mbala.
Evan Nelle helped La Salle gain separation with back-to-back jumpers to open the fourth quarter, and their stingy defense frustrated the Soaring Falcons who managed just eight points in the final period. Deschon Winston, back in the fold after missing their game against Far Eastern University due to back spasms, scored a game-high 19 points to lead the way for the Green Archers.
"We really worked hard for it," said La Salle coach Derrick Pumaren. "It was a total team effort the whole game …I'm proud of the way we played tonight. It was a low-scoring ball game but I'm proud of the way we played on both ends of the floor."
Adamson dropped a second straight game and now has a 5-8 win-loss record. Nonetheless, they still have a slim chance of securing the fourth and last Final 4 berth, although their fate is no longer completely in their hands.
Neither team could take control after three quarters, with a late triple by Jerom Lastimosa knotting the count at 43 heading into the final frame. But Nelle knocked down two consecutive midrange jumpers to open the fourth, and a hook shot by Justine Baltazar gave La Salle a 49-43 lead.
Adamson stayed within striking distance after a Lastimosa layup made it 54-47 with four minutes to go. They had no answer for Baltazar, however, and the big man completed a three-point play on the other end to give La Salle a double-digit spread, 57-47.
The Soaring Falcons faded from there, with Nelle stretching the lead to 14 points, 62-48, by beating his defender for a layup with 49 seconds left.
"We knew it was gonna be a dogfight, it was gonna be a battle. We just had to stay focused and keep battling," said Winston, who also had five rebounds, two assists, and two steals.
Nelle finished with 11 points, nine of which came in the payoff period. Kurt Lojera added 10 markers. Baltazar, playing through a hurt ankle, had six points and six rebounds, while Michael Phillips contributed four points, nine boards, four steals and two blocks.
Lastimosa, the league's leading scorer, labored for his 11 points as he made just three of 13 field goals. He was subjected to double- and triple-teams by La Salle throughout the game, with Pumaren giving the guard different looks on defense. His teammates couldn't make La Salle pay, however: Ricky Peromingan was the only other Falcon in double-digits with 11 points. Joem Sabandal went 2-of-13 from the field for eight points.
La Salle wraps up its elimination round campaign against National University on Sunday, while Adamson faces off against University of the East on the same day.
LA SALLE 64 -- Winston 19, Nelle 11, Lojera 10, Austria 6, Baltazar 6, M. Phillips 4, Nwankwo 4, Manuel 2, B. Phillips 2, Nonoy 0.
ADAMSON 51 -- Lastimosa 11, Peromingan 11, Sabandal 8, Zaldivar 7, Douanga 6, Manzano 4, Hanapi 4, Magbuhos 0, Colonia 0, Yerro 0, Barasi 0, Fuentebella 0, Maata 0, Jaymalin 0.
Quarters: 12-13, 27-26, 43-43, 64-51.