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Buzzer-beating three from Belo lifts FEU past La Salle; dethrones defending champs

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The Tamaraws are headed for the finals. With the game tied up in the dying seconds of the ball game, Mike Tolomia would find the open Mark Belo, who would go on to sink one of the biggest shots of his career from beyond the arc, sending the Far Eastern University Tamaraws to the finals and dethroning last year’s champions the De La Salle University Green Archers, 67-64, Wednesday at the Araneta Coliseum.

The game would open to both teams firing up offensively. A seven-point explosion from La Salle’s Jeron Teng would give the Taft-based squad the 11-6 edge halfway through the quarter, but the cagers from Morayta would answer back with a 9-2 rally of their own to overtake the Archers, 14-13. After hitting a 16-all deadlock moments later, the Tamaraws would go on another rally, going 8-1 to close out the quarter with the 24-17 lead.

It was the Archers turn to heat up come the second quarter. Big baskets from Prince Rivero and Julian Sargent would lead the Archers to take a 30-26 lead in the first two and a half minutes of the quarter. The two squads would continue firing back at each for the next minutes, leading to a 36-all deadlock late in the quarter. The cagers from taft however would soon go cold, and a three-pointer from Mark Belo and a last second bucket from Raymar Jose would give FEU the 37-32 lead heading into halftime.

The third quarter would see both teams finally slow down after trading salvos in the first half. Taking advantage of a lull in the Tamaraws’ offensive, the Archers would manage to come within striking distance once more, 47-46 with three and a half left on the clock after a Prince Rivero three-point play. The Archers however would be unable to find their touch in the final minutes of the quarter, and the Tamaraws would hold on to the lead, 51-47.

With both squads going all-out offensively, the game would remain close, with FEU unable to pull away from the resurgent La Salle. Baskets from Arnold Van Opstal at halfway point would give La Salle a taste of the lead, at 56-55.

After another exchange of baskets, the game would remain deadlocked at 61-all entering the final two minutes. A breakaway three from Mark Belo would give FEU the lead, 64-61, with 1:05 left on the clock.

The Archers would manage to come up big in the next forty seconds, with a split free-throw opportunity from Jason Perkins and a lay-in from Norbert Torres from the Jeron Teng forcing another deadlock, 64-64, with 24.4 left on the clock.

The ball would find the eagle-eyed Mike Tolomia in what would be the final play of the ball game. Unable to get into position for the mid-range jumper, Tolomia would spot partner-in-crime Mark Belo unchecked at the wing. With less than ten seconds in the ball game, Tolomia would shock the mammoth crowd by passing to the open Belo, who would then go on to sink the last second trifecta just before the shot clock expired.

Belo led the Tamaraws in scoring with 23 points and 8 rebounds. Mike Tolomia had 14 points.

Jeron Teng led the dethroned champions with 13 points. Jason Perkins and Arnold Van Opstal had 12 and 11 respectively.

“The play was designed for Tolomia. He made the biggest decision by passing to Belo,” revealed FEU head coach Nash Racela at the post-game conference. “Belo hit the biggest shot of the ball game but another guy made the pass.”

“What’s really exciting is nag-build up yung crowd.”

The Tamaraws are now headed to the finals with the National University Bulldogs, who won in the first knockout match of the day against the Ateneo Blue Eagles. The Tamaraws’ last finals appearance was in 2011, against Ateneo.

The first game of the best-of-three series between the Bulldogs and Tamaraws will be held on October 4, 3:30 pm at the Mall of Asia Arena. This is the first time since 1992 that a final series will feature neither Ateneo or La Salle.

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