ARANETA COLISEUM, QUEZON CITY – The National University Bulldogs stay one step ahead of the UE Red Warriors in the race for after overpowering the University of Santo Tomas Growling Tigers, 75-64, Wednesday at the Araneta Coliseum.
The first quarter opened to the Bulldogs struggling to get their first points, with the Tigers quickly building the 14-4 lead in the first five minutes. Reden Celda and Glenn Khobuntin would soon rise to the occasion, leading the Bulldogs in trimming the lead. A layup from Alfred Aroga would give NU the lead, 17-16 late in the quarter, but Louie Vigil would respond in kind seconds before the buzzer expired to give UST back the lead, 19-18.
The opening minutes of the second quarter would belong to NU, with Khobuntin and Celda rallying the Bulldogs to take the lead, 29-23 in the first few minutes. Ed Daquioag and Karim Abdul however would hold the fort for the Tigers, UST would manage to trail by only three points, 37-40, by halftime. The stats sheet would reveal unlikely heroes leading the scoring, with Ed Daquioag leading the Tigers with 10 and Reden Celda leading the Bulldogs with 8.
The two usually defensive-minded squads would continue firing at each other in the third quarter, but a series of three-pointers from Gelo Alolino and Reden Celda would help the Bulldogs pull away in the final minutes, 58-49, but Louie Vigil would rally the Tigers to close the gap just before the buzzer, 58-54.
The fourth quarter would open on the same note, with baskets from Daquioag closing the gap to a single point, 60-59, with six and half minutes left on the clock. Back-to-back three-pointers from Nico Javelona however would extend the lead once more, 66-59. A few more baskets from Khobuntin and Alolino would extend the lead to 70-63 entering the last two minutes. A basket from Troy Rosario would put NU up, 72-63, with a minute left on the clock. The plucky Tigers would fight to get the defensive stop in the final minute, but the Bulldogs would only go on to extend the lead, raking in the extra points from the free throws.
Five Bulldogs would finish the game in double digits: Gelo Alolino with 14, Reden Celda with 13, Glenn Khobuntin with 12, Nico Javelona with 11, and Troy Rosario with 10. Karim Abdul led the Tigers with 15 points, 9 rebounds, and 5 blocks, while Ed Daquioag chipped in 11 points, 5 assists, and 3 steals.
“It was a sloppy game for us. I’m not very happy for this game. But a win is a win, but we needed to win. Badly…”, said NU head coach Eric Altamirano at the post-game press conference. “We just want to focus on our game(against La Salle)on Saturday.”
The winner of the game between NU and the DLSU Green Archers will face the loser of the game between the Ateneo Blue Eagles and the FEU Tamaraws for the #2 spot and a twice-to-beat advantage. Should UE defeat UST; the Red Warriors will force a play-off for the #4 spot with the losers of the NU-La Salle game.