A new chapter begins for De La Salle basketball.
Unleashing their new recruits, the Green Archers slipped past the Bright Akhuetie-led UP Fighting Maroons, 82-79, in the opening game of 12th Filoil Flying V Preseason Premiere Cup on Saturday.
The opener of the preseason spectacle, which was held at the Filoil Flying V Centre in San Juan, matched the rebuilding Green Archers against a stacked UP side bannered by veteran holdovers and Akhuetie , the Nigerian enforcer who once played for the Perpetual Altas.
Leading by as much as 12 in the final period, the Archers fell into a series of defensive lapses and turnovers which enabled the Diliman-based Maroons to mount a comeback.
Paul Desiderio’s three-pointer in the final minute cut the lead down to two. Kib Montalbo nailed two free throws to hike the lead back to four and restore order for the faltering Archers. UP then responded with a Diego Dario three with only 3.1 seconds remaining.
After a quick foul by the Maroons, New Zealander reinforcement Taane Samuel would effectively seal the game and the victory for the Green Archers with two free throws.
Justine Baltazar topscored for the Green Archers with 16 points to go along with six rebounds. Samuel contributed 12 points and seven rebounds for a rousing TV debut for DLSU.
Season 80 Rookie of the Year Juan Gomez de Liaño led the Maroons with 21 points on 5 of 12 shooting from the three-point arc. Akhuetie, meanwhile posted a double-double performance of 12 points and 15 rebounds, but had seven turnovers after DLSU’s defense hounded him all game long.
The Green Archers pulled off an impressive win even after losing key figures. First to leave the Archers’ lair was Cameroonian big man Ben Mbala, who last December announced his plans to play professional basketball in Mexico.
In January, head coach Aldin Ayo left De La Salle after a two-year tenure to book a head coaching gig with the University of Santo Tomas Growling Tigers.
Last to leave Taft were the Rivero brothers, Ricci and Prince. Ricci announced their departure from De La Salle through a social media post, amidst controversies and speculations that surrounded their suspension from the University’s basketball team.
The Fighting Maroons will next face the Mapua Cardinals on April 22. Meanwhile, the Green Archers are set to test the mettle of the Gilas cadet squad on April 27.