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FEU withstands UE pressure, clinches Final Four spot

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Bitter rivals Far Eastern University and University of the East figured in a defensive standstill.

In the crucial moments of the game, the FEU Tamaraws relied on veterans Mac Belo and Roger Pogoy to weather their rivals’ pressure and win, 71-67, to clinch the first Final Four spot in the UAAP Men’s Basketball tournament Saturday afternoon at the Smart Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City.

The Tamaraws were without Mike Tolomia to close the game as he sprained his ankle with a minute to go in the third quarter after a conversion. FEU head coach Nash Racela said Tolomia wanted to return in the waning moments of the game, but the coaching staff refused to gamble.

With the Red Warriors holding a 57-53 lead to open the final quarter, rookie Wendel Comboy and sophomore Richard Escoto were able to tie the game with jumpers. RR De Leon then responded with a shot to put the UE faithful in attendance to a frenzy. Smart Elite ambassador Mac Belo took notice of this, taking over the game and silencing the crowd. Belo scored on two free throws and, in the next play, dribbled past two defenders and converted on a turnaround jumper to give FEU a 61-59 lead midway through the final quarter.

The UE Red Warriors returned the favor in a 6-2 spurt to regain the lead. The UE run was capped with a banker by Paul Varilla. After a timeout, the Tamaraws hardened their defensive stance, not allowing the Red Warriors to score a field goal in the final five minutes of the game. After that, baskets by Prince Orizu and Russell Escoto gave the Tamaraws a solitary point lead, 66-65, with four minutes to go. But the Tamaraws also struggled on the offensive end as well. With 1:32 second to go, after an excellent block by Belo on Chris Javier, RR Pogoy was able to shake-off Batiller and knockdown a top-of-the-arc three-pointer that gave them a four point cushion.

The Red Warriors still had a chance with 46.7 seconds to go. After a basket by Nick Abanto that cut the lead to just two, the Warriors regained possession after a flurry of turnovers. However, a wide-open Edgar Charcos was not able to convert on a triple, while Varilla missed another three from the corner. Free throws by Achie Inigo with 3.9 seconds to go sealed the game for the Tamaraws, 71-67.

“Scary, scary,” was the first thing Racela said after the game. He then commended the style of play of UE and their players. “Talagang ganun if you play a team like UE. They never give up when they play. They play the same way allthroughout,” he remarked. “It’s a good thing we made the necessary stops in the end game.”

As for the Final Four spot, Racela admitted that it is not on their minds. “We know that we could make the Final Four, why bother to think about it,” he said. He further added that they take this season game by game as all teams are tough, including their next opponents, the Adamson Soaring Falcons. It’s the same sentiment shared by RR Pogoy, who said that “hindi pa enough yun dahil marami pa kaming puwede i-improve personally and as a team.”

For Mac Belo, he feels that the team is just lucky to have made that stop that led to the end game rally. “Grabe yung depensa ng UE,” he admitted. “At nabibigyan lang ng magandang spots kaya nagawa ko yun.”

Smart Elite ambassador Mac Belo led all scorers with 16 points. He was 5/11 from the field and 5/7 from the foul stripe. He added six boards and two assists to his statline. Pogoy, even in shooting just 5/16 from the field, made the crucial baskets in scoring 12 points and grabbing the biggest boards as he had eight rebounds.

For the Red Warriors, Bonbon Batiller broke out of his slump in scoring 13 minutes. Paul Varilla and Edgar Charcos had ten points apiece in the contest as well.

As a team, the Tamaraws shot just 35.53% from the field and were forced to 22 turnovers. UE shot better in shooting 38.16%. However, FEU greatly outrebounded their opponents, 61-42, that led to a 21-10 advantage in second chance points that proved to be the difference.

The league-leading FEU Tamaraws (9-1) will next face the Adamson Falcons (2-9) on Wednesday, October 28 at 2:00pm while UE Red Warriors (3-7) will have a long break before they face the UST Growling Tigers on Wednesday, Novermber 4 at 2:00pm.

The Scores:
FEU (71) – Belo 16, Pogoy 12, Inigo 11, Jose 8, Orizu 6, Escoto Ru 6, Escoto Ri 4, Tolomia 4, Arong 2, Comboy 0, Dennison 0, Tamsi 0, Trinidad 0.
UE (67) – Batiller 13, Charcos 10, Varilla P 10, Abanto 8, Derige 8, Varilla J 7, Javier 5, Manalang 3, Palma 2, De Leon 1, Gonzales 0, Sta. Ana 0.
Quarterscores: 18-19, 34-34, 53-55, 71-67.

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