The stars came out to play as the UAAP’s two top teams collided at the Mall of Asia Arena. Mike Tolomia sank the game-icing layup to push the Far Eastern University Tamaraws over championship contenders De La Salle University Green Archers, 74 70. Magic Mike Tolomia scored 9 of his team-best 22 points in the back-and-forth final period, outdueling fellow superstar Jeron Teng of the Archers, who carried his team all game with a beastly 28 points, 8 boards, 4 dimes and 2 blocks. FEU’s hard-fought victory places them at 8-2, in pole position in the race for the top seed, while DLSU falls into the 7-3 meat-grinder with NU and bitter rivals ADMU.
La Salle and Jeron Teng came out of the gate strong. The Green Archers used their size advantage to intimidate the Tamaraws’ lanky but skinny forwards in the first half, as they pulled down 35 rebounds (12 offensive) against only 20 caroms for FEU. Teng bore the offensive burden in the first half, scoring 11 points to lead all players. Much to the surprise of everybody in attendance, 9 of those points came on long-range bombs, a notorious weakness of Teng’s game. DLSU’s dominance in the shaded lane also forced FEU into a variety of contested shots, which led to the league’s most-efficient offense sputtering to a disappointing 27% mark from the field in the first half. As such, the Archers held a 35-26 advantage at the break. Unfortunately for the La Salle faithful, FEU Head Coach Nash Racela justified his salary with effective tactical adjustments in the second half. A more Tolomia-centric Tamaraws attack burned the Archers in the third period, as FEU doubled its output with an explosive 26 point quarter. Jeron Teng single-handedly kept DLSU afloat amidst the rising FEU tide. Teng and Tolomia would trade highlight reel baskets in the third, each dropping 10 points for their squads. As such, the score at the end of 30 minutes was a finely poised 52-51, in favour of the Tamaraws. FEU’s Mac Belo, beloved by advanced stats gurus everywhere, fuelled an early Tamaraws surge that gave them what looked to be a safe 69-61 lead midway through the final period. DLSU showed its championship credentials with an immediate response, cutting the lead to 69-66 on an Almond Vosotros put-back with only 1:26 left to play. With the primarily Archer Green-clad crowd already rocking the MOA Arena, a difficult under-goal stab by DLSU big man Norbert Torres trimmed the lead to a solitary point, cranking up the decibel levels inside the stadium. After Mike Tolomia manufactured 2 points at the free-throw line and some breathing space for FEU, Jeron Teng again sliced open the Tamaraws’ D to keep La Salle within 1. With only 8.3s to play, the irrepressibly clutch Mike Tolomia sank his first freebie, then used his savvy to haul in an offensive board off his own free throw miss. His resulting lay-up effectively decided the game, 74-70.
Mac Belo backed up Tolomia’s production with 11 points and 8 boards of his own in the game, although his 38% shooting slightly deflates his astronomical efficiency ratings. Point guard Achie Inigo also cracked double-digits for the Tamaraws, scoring 10 points, with 2 triples, in their win. Aside from Teng, Norbert Torres posted a characteristically solid stat-line for the Archers, bullying his way to 13 point, 10 rebound double-double bolstered by 50% shooting and 2 blocks. La Salle was doomed by the poor performances of key cogs Jason Perkins and Almond Vosotros. The pair combined for 15 points and an above average 21 boards, but the disappointing duo shot an abysmal 7 out of 28.