The NU Bulldogs’ first victory over the FEU Tamaraws this season couldn’t have come at a better time.
After beating back a second half comeback from the cagers from Morayta, the Bulldogs keep their hopes of ending a forty-four year title drought alive, routing the Tamaraws 62-47, forcing a third meeting in their UAAP men’s basketball finals series, Wednesday at the Araneta Coliseum, in front of a crowd of almost 25,000.
The first quarter would open to a staggering display of power from the league’s best defensive team. The Bulldogs would manage to build a 16-3 lead in the first seven minutes of the quarter, denying the cagers from Morayta the easy look. A triple from Mac Belo would inject some life into the FEU crowd to trim the lead to ten points, 16-6, with two minutes left on the clock. Kyle Neypes however would manage to fire back for the Bulldogs in the final seconds, giving the Bulldogs the 18-6 lead at the end of the first quarter. Leading the Bulldogs in scoring was Troy Rosario, who outscored the entire FEU squad with 9 points in the first quarter. The Tamaraws’ six-point performance in the first quarter is their lowest scoring output in a quarter in the season thus far.
The opening minutes of the second quarter would see the Bulldogs extend the lead to 22-6 in the first three minutes. A floater from FEU’s Mike Tolomia would however kick the Tamaraws back to life. Giving the Bulldogs a taste of their own medicine, the cagers from Morayta would finally find their touch with the ball while denying the Bulldogs any easy shots. By the end of the second quarter, the NU lead would be cut to single digits, 26-18.
Finally finding his touch after a forgettable first half, Mac Belo would lead a resurgent FEU squad in the third quarter. The Boys in green and gold would manage to trim the deficit to as much as six points, 40-34, in the first four minutes of the quarter. However, the Bulldogs would continue dictating the pace of game, firing back at every shot put up by the Tams. After a five-point barrage from Jjay Alejandro and Rev Diputado late in the quarter, the Bulldogs would find themselves with the double digit lead once more, 43-30, at the end of the third.
A basket from Troy Rosario would give the Bulldogs a fifteen point lead, 45-30, at the start of the final period. The Tamaraws however would once again receive much needed help from Mac Belo. A six-point explosion from the Mythical Five member would signal the start of a 10-1 rally from the cagers from Morayta, trimming the lead to six, 46-40, with six minutes left on the clock.
The two squads would continue trading baskets in the next few minutes, with the margin unchanged entering the final two minutes of the ballgame. A triple from Gelo Alolino with little less than two minutes of the clock however would signal the start of the FEU collapse, giving the Bulldogs the 56-44 lead. Carl Cruz would go on to miss on the chance to fire back on the other end, and a basket from Gelo Alolino would put the Bulldogs back up by double digits, 56-44, with 1:14 left on the clock.
A trifecta from Mike Tolomia would inject some life into the FEU cause, trimming the lead to nine, 56-47. However, time was on the side of the boys in blue and gold. After another couple of missed FEU baskets and a few more successful free-throw charities from the Bulldogs, the final buzzer would sound off to coach Eric Altamirano’s boys celebrating as the first Bulldogs to register a victory in a finals series in a long, long time.
Troy Rosario, who was earlier awarded the Most Improved Player of the season, led NU with 19 points and 14 rebounds. Glenn Khobuntin had 17, while Gelo Alolino had 12. Mac Belo led the Tams with 17 points, while Mike Tolomia contributed 15. Both teams struggled offensively throughout the game with the Bulldogs shooting only 32% while the shootout-savvy Tamaraws shooting a dismal 27.87% from the field. The Bulldogs also dominated the boards, bringing down 58 rebounds while holding the Tams to 39.
“Yun lang naman ang pwede namin gawin talaga. We felt that in our last game we did not do a good job defensively. We allowed them to score in the 70s.” said NU head coach Eric Altamirano when asked about the Bulldogs’ defensive execution at the post-game conference. “(Today) we focused on going back to our fundamentals.”
“We missed a lot of shots because we forced shots,” said FEU coach Nash Racela. “It’s on us kung paano na mag-adjust.”
Game three between the Bulldogs and the Tamaraws will be held on October 15, next Wednesday at the Araneta Coliseum. The Bulldogs are looking to end a forty-four year title drought while the Tamaraws are looking for their 20th men’s basketball title.