The Far Eastern University Tamaraws became the first team to secure a final four spot in the UAAP 77 men’s basketball tournament after escaping the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons, 75-69, preventing what could have been the biggest upset for the season.
The Fighting Maroons started out strong in the first quarter, with the fiery JR Gallarza opening the day with his outside shooting. However, FEU’s Mike Tolomia would respond in kind, draining eleven points to lift FEU to a 19-18 edge at the end of the quarter. FEU would open the second period with all guns blazing, building a nine-point lead and holding UP scoreless in the first three minutes of the quarter. However, with Tolomia losing steam and Mac Belo unable to get a touch of the ball, UP would dominate the remainder of the quarter, forcing a 35-35 deadlock by halftime.
The third quarter would see both teams trade basket after basket for most of the quarter. Tolomia, Chris Hargrove, and Carl Cruz would head the charge for FEU, while UP would get much needed help from Dave Moralde and Mark Juruena. FEU would however gain the upper-hand once more, 53-52, by the end of the quarter.
The fiery exchange between the two squads would continue well into the fourth quarter. JR Gallarza would return to top form in the final quarter, while FEU’s Belo would finally pull together to find his touch at the basket. However, the Tamaraws were dealt a serious blow when Mike Tolomia was fouled for the fifth and final time heading into the last three minutes.
The Tams held the upper hand, 68-64 with three minutes remaining in the ballgame, but two free throws from Mikee Reyes and a breakaway three from Diego Dario would give UP the lead, 69-68, heading into the final two minutes. Undaunted by the sudden lead change, FEU’s Achie Inigo would hit another three-pointer to give FEU back the lead and drown the UP gallery’s cheers. After a missed basket by UP in the next play, Belo would hit another basket off a fastbreak to bring the FEU lead to four points, 73-69, with a minute remaining in the ball game. The Maroons would be unable to get a stop in the final minute, securing the win for the Tams.
Mike Tolomia led FEU with 19 points and 5 rebounds before fouling out in the quarter, while Belo had 14 points, shaking off a rocky first half. JR Gallarza led the UP scoring with 18 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 steals, shooting four out of six from the three-point line.
“Kapag mahina kalaban, players namin nagrerelax. Masaya pero may kailangan gawin pa,” said Coach Eric Gonzales of FEU, speaking in place of head coach of Nash Racela, who is currently in Spain as a part of the Gilas coaching staff.
“Akala ng lahat ang UP mahina. Kahit anong kalabanin ninyo dikit yan. I’m thankful pumasok yung tira ni Achie(Inigo).”
With the win, FEU tightens their grip on first place, having climbed to 9-2 in the standings. UP meanwhile have yet to taste victory in the second round, their last victory having been the win against Adamson in the first round.