Reigning titlist Far Eastern U showed every inch of its championship pedigree on Wednesday night when the Tamaraws went down fighting hard against the favored Green Archers of La Salle, 78-83, in their UAAP Season 79 men’s basketball encounter at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Despite losing six vital cogs, including Finals MVP Mc Belo, Mike Tolomia and Roger Pogoy, the Tamaraws gave the Green Archers all they could handle as they mounted a searing fightback from a 16-point deficit in the third canto and dragged them to a frantic finish that had all the elements of a playoff type of basketball.
Although they ended up on the losing end, FEU coach Nash Racela was pleased to see how the Tamaraws went toe-to-toe against the Green Archers.
“I was really surprised today. They exceeded my expectations,” he said after emerging from the dugout, sounding cool and confident.
“What it gave us is the belief that we can still compete this season.”
While many expected the Green Archers, bannered by heralded recruit Ben Mbala and star wingman Jeron Teng, were in for a cruise, the Tamaraws showed they won’t be any pushovers as they displayed efficient offense, with five players scoring in double figures.
Veteran Ron Dennison topscored with 13 points to lead three other locals in double figures while Cameroon import Prince Orizu, the main defender of Mbala, banged in 10 markers and 10 rebounds in a solid performance off the bench for the Tamaraws.
“When you have a young team, you become unpredictable,” said Racela. “I think compared to last year, we don’t have stability. We’re not going into a game we knew that somebody will perform. This year, we have a young and inexperienced team.”
The Tamaraws appeared on their way of completing their fightback when guard Jojo Trinidad scored off a floater that tied things up at 74-all with four minutes left to play.
But the Green Archers refused to wilt under pressure as Teng stood tall on their big response, scoring eight of the team’s last nine points, including four from the 15-foot line.
“I think we got them in the endgame,” noted Racela, adding he felt they got on the short end of crucial calls in the crunch.
“They just got some bail out free throws in the end when they called a hand check foul on Jeron Teng. We were down two I think and they got free throws. It’s the same thing we were complaining about the start of the game. Tinatawag nila sa La Salle but they weren’t calling it for us,” he added.
“We need to be tougher than the calls of the referees.” – By Jerome Lagunzad
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