With the momentum with the Ateneo side, the Far Eastern University Tamaraws had one last chance to eliminate the Blue Eagles.
With Mike Tolomia missing a fastbreak layup, it was a Mac Belo tip-in with half of a second to go that eliminated Ateneo, 76-74, and gave Far Eastern University another crack at the UAAP Men’s Basketball Championship for the second year in a row, Saturday afternoon at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The Blue Eagles made the stops at the start of the quarter with an early 4-0 lead. As the Tamaraws wet their feet, their disciplined defense held the Blue Eagles scoreless for the next three minutes as FEU surged to an 11-4 lead capped by a Mike Tolomia find to Orizu. Ateneo were able to cut the lead to just two, 14-12, as Kiefer Ravena and Adrian Wong scored in an 8-1 rally. However, back-to-back conversions by Tolomia gave the Morayta cagers a 19-12 lead to end the opening quarter.
With the Blue Eagles greatly out-rebounded in the opening salvo, coach Bo Perasol brought Nigerian student-athlete Chibueze Ikeh to start the second stanza. However, the Tamaraws were again able to extend their lead to nine, 26-17, midway through the quarter. Seniors Von Pessumal and Kiefer Ravena then brought Ateno back in, combining for the Blue Eagles’ next 12 points that included back-to-back triples by Pessumal. However, Belo was able to respond with a three-point play, and free throws by Russel Escoto again extended the FEU lead. A putback layup by Raymar Jose off of a Tolomia miss gave the favorites a 38-32 lead to enter the break.
FEU started the third quarter in uncharacteristic fashion, as unncessary fouls and turnovers plagued the Tamaraws. The Blue Eagles were able to take advantage of this, cutting the lead to just three after a spin to the hoop by senior Gotladera with 7:19 remaining in the third. Splits by Belo and Pogoy from the stripe, and a floater by the former halted the Ateneo momentum. Frustrated with the lack of calls, Pessumal and Ravena were the only Blue Eagles taking over the offense to close out the quarter. The balanced attack of FEU, though, through Achie Inigo, Russel Escoto, and Monbert Arong, extended the lead to 56-47 with 1:29 remaining. A corner three-pointer by Wong ended the quarter with Ateneo still down by six, 56-50.
In the final period, the Blue Eagles, with their backs against the wall, forced their pace on the stingy FEU system. Slowly, Wong and Ravena were able to make tough jumpers, capped by a booming triple by Ravena with 5:26 remaining that tied the game at 64-all to the roar of the Ateneo faithful. As the Yellow-and-Green community tried to power their squad back, Belo then responded with a drive to the corner for a bucket. Ravena quickly answered by finding Wong for a high-banking rainbow that gave the Katipunan cagers their first lead since the start of the game, 67-66. As the two teams exchanged baskets and leads, Pessumal was able to find Ravena for another rainbow with 3:02 remaining. The latter stepped back for a fadeaway J in the next play to give Ateneo a 74-71 lead with 2:20 remaining.
After a timeout by Nash Racela, the Tamaraws missed four point-blank shots, but Ravena missed a long-range jumper and gave FEU possession. After a Tolomia miss, and the rebound going out of bounds, the officials deemed that it was still Tamaraw ball. Mike Tolomia and Roger Pogoy then performed an excellent dribble-drive that led to a three by Pogoy to tie the game at 74-all with 1:07 remaining. Pogoy then made an excellent stop in stealing the ball from Ravena with 33 seconds remaining, but Escoto missed a jumper that led to an Adrian Wong rebound. Wong then ran past four Tamaraw defenders but Pogoy was able to make an excellent challenge that resulted to a miss. Tolomia then ran through the lanes for a fastbreak layup that missed. Fortunately for Tolomia and the Tamaraw faithful, Mac Belo served as insurance, putting back the miss with .5 ticks remaining for the game-winner as FEU advanced to the UAAP Finals for the second year in a row, 76-74.
“Tough shots lahat ng tinira nila, pasok kahit boarding,” a relieved coach Nash Racela said after the game. “Very tough game especially with Kiefer and Wong making their jumpers but our players are defending them hard.”
Mac Belo, who had 15 points on 56% shooting and grabbed nine boards, then added that this was more special than the buzzer-beating three-pointer he nailed that eliminated La Salle last season. “Yan yung gusto namin. Nagcocontribute lahat at gusto namin magfocus sa defense.”
For Pogoy, the high point-man for the Tamaraws with 16 markers that included two triples, it was his role to stretch the floor well for Tolomia and Belo. “Eto yung role ko. Lagi nila kasi tinatrap si Mike kaya nalilibre. Pero team effort talaga ito. Involved lahat ng players mas lalo na sa depensa.”
Racela then closed in saying that “siya [Pogoy] lang naka-shoot but it was a total team effort. Team effort kaya nakabalik kami sa finals.”
FEU senior Mike Tolomia added 13 points, 2/3 shooting from downtown, as well.
For the Blue Eagles, Kiefer Ravena, playing in his last collegiate game, led all scorers with 25 points on 53% shooting. He was 2/4 from the field but was only able to dish out two dimes, three assists shy of his average. Rookie Adrian Wong added 17 points on 60% shooting while Von Pesumal, who had also played his last UAAP game, had 15 points on 3/9 shooting. He was able to grab six boards as well.
As a team, Ateneo shot better from the field with 45% compared to just 36.92% by the Tamaraws. However, FEU attempted 16 more free throws, converting 21 of their 32 attempts. FEU also out-rebounded their opponents 45-33, that led to a 19-13 advantage in second chance points.
The FEU Tamaraws will wait for the victor of the UST-NU series tomorrow while the Ateneo Blue Eagles will finish in third place.
FEU (76) – Pogoy 16, Belo 15, Tolomia 13, Inigo 9, Dennison 6, Jose 5, Escoto 4, Orizu 4, Arong 4, Tamsi 0.
ADMU (74) – Ravena 25, Wong 17, Pessumal 15, Gotladera 8, Ikeh 4, Ma. Nieto 2, Go 2, Capacio 1, Babilonia 0, Black 0, Tolentino A. 0, Pingoy 0, Tolentino M. 0.
Quarterscores: 19-12; 38-32; 56-50; 76-74.
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