Lefty guard Monbert Arong saved the day for defending champion Far Eastern U on Sunday when he knocked down the game-winning jumper with 3.7 seconds left on the way to a thrilling 57-56 victory over National U in the UAAP Season 79 men’s basketball tourney at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Picking up from where he left off in their 78-75 win over the Bulldogs in their first-round meeting last Wednesday, the 6-foot Arong came through with another heroic performance that enabled the Tamaraws to complete their fightback from an 11-point deficit and extend the league’s second-hottest win-run to five.
Despite a nagging ankle sprain, Arong went on to finish with 13 points on top of two rebounds and as many assists while helping slow down National U gunner J-Jay Alejandro who only scored seven markers after exploding for a career-best 31 in their initial meeting.
While there’s a growing sense of Arong being the Tamaraws’ go-to-guy, FEU coach Nash Racela won’t easily be swayed.
“Depende ‘yan sa tumitingin. Kung sa tingin ng mga tao na siya ang go-to-guy, then so be it,” he said, with the 24-year-old Arong sitting beside him during the post-match interview.
“We can go to him. We can go to Raymar (Jose). We can go to Jojo (Trinidad). We can go to Prince (Orizu). That’s our mentality every game. We’re not dependent on one person.
Racela, however, sounded pleased to see Arong come up big and help the Tamaraws firm up their grip at second spot with a 6-2 record.
“We’re managing his minutes kaya hindi sya nag-starting five. He was struggling today. Buti na lang nagkaroon pa siya ng lakas for the last play. At least today, he was the go-to-guy and he delivered,” he said.
Arong admitted the confidence being given to him by Racela and his fellow Tamaraws continue to do him well.
“Credit goes to our coaches at sa mga teammates ko na nag-teamwork kami. Hindi kami bumitaw until the end,” he said.
Still, Racela is hoping the Tamaraws can remain unpredictable—in terms of their offensive attack—as they continue their title-retention bid. “Our hope every game, kung sino man ang pupuntahan namin, maka-deliver whoever that is,” he said. – By Jerome Lagunzad