MANILA, Philippines – The young Adamson Falcons passed a tough early season test by defeating National University, 64-51, to climb to solo second place in the UAAP Season 79 men's basketball tournament Wednesday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Kristian Bernardo, who did not play at all in the first half, gave the Falcons a huge lift in the final quarter when Papi Sarr was forced to sit due to foul trouble, as the veteran big man hit key buckets to hold off the Bulldogs.
Adamson improved to 3-1, just behind the unbeaten De La Salle Green Archers (4-0). National U, for its part, suffered a second consecutive defeat and dropped to 2-2, tied with Ateneo, Far Eastern University, and University of Santo Tomas in the middle of the pack.
"I guess slowly, we're showing a little bit of maturity and character," Adamson coach Franz Pumaren said after the game. "People may scout us and think of us as a (Jerrick) Ahanmisi, (Robbie) Manalang, Papi Sarr team, but this time around, the bench really responded well."
The Falcons led most of the way but were never able to gain much separation, and the Bulldogs found themselves unlucky to head into the fourth quarter down by two points, 40-42, as Matthew Aquino flubbed a wide-open lay-up at the buzzer of the third period.
A three-point play by Mohammed Salim put NU ahead, 43-42, early in the fourth quarter, but Sean Manganti regained the lead back for Adamson after he tipped in a miss by Terence Mustre.
The Bulldogs last took the lead with 7:11 left to play thanks to two free throws by Alfred Aroga, but they committed a breakdown on defense in the next possession that led to an open lay-up for Bernardo. That basket gave Adamson a 46-45 lead that they would not relinquish.
"Bernardo made me really look good out there," Pumaren said. "I think he was the game-changer, scoring big baskets down the stretch."
A reverse lay-up by Chino Mosqueda kept NU within striking distance, but Bernardo responded with a three-point play to stretch the lead to four, 51-47. A bucket by Aroga made it a one-possession game with three minutes left, but Bernardo was there to respond anew, connecting on a lay-up to again push the lead to four points.
National U last threatened with 2:20 to go after Aroga tipped in a miss by J-Jay Alejandro, but the Falcons were able to work the ball to Jerrick Ahanmisi, who converted a tough basket while being fouled by Mosqueda. The rookie guard completed the and-1 play, and Bulldogs faded from there, with Alejandro in particular committing three turnovers in the final two minutes to doom their cause.
"I'm surprised with the maturity that my players are showing," Pumaren admitted. "They (NU) made a run, but we didn't run away from the challenge, and we kept our poise."
Bernardo finished with seven points in just under eight minutes of action, while Papi Sarr tallied a double-double of 13 points and 17 rebounds. JD Tungcab had 11 points, 10 of which came in the first half to keep Adamson in control.
Aroga had a double-double of his own, scoring 17 points and hauling down 13 boards to make up for his two-point, three-rebound effort in their loss to La Salle last Sunday. But no other NU player finished in double-digits, and Alejandro – their top offensive option – was held scoreless while committing six of the Bulldogs' 20 turnovers in the game.
As a team, Adamson shot 44.44% from the field, and won even though the usually explosive pair of Ahanmisi and Manalang were limited to a combined 10 points. They also held NU to only 30.65%, and had a 44-35 advantage on rebounds.
This marks Adamson's best start to a season since Season 74, when they also opened with a 3-1 record and reached the Final Four.
ADAMSON 64 – Sarr 13, Tungcab 11, Manganti 9, Ahanmisi 8, Bernardo 7, Mustre 5, Espeleta 4, Ochea 3, Manalang 2, Camacho 2, Pasturan 0, Ng 0, Paranada 0, Chua 0
NU 51 – Aroga 17, Salem 9, Salim 7, Mosqueda 4, Morido 4, Diputado C 3, Pate 3, Gallego 2, Sinclair 2, Alejandro 0, Diputado R 0, Abatayo 0, Aquino 0, Rangel 0, Yu 0
QUARTER SCORES: 17-13, 29-28, 42-40, 64-51
For more sports coverage, visit the ABS-CBN Sports website.