The Far Eastern University Tamaraws need just one more win to take back the crown to Morayta. The cagers in green and gold survived four gruelling quarters of basketball that saw a trade of runs and hard fouls to win game one against the National University Bulldogs, 75-70, Saturday afternoon at the Mall of Asia Arena.
The first quarter would open to an exchange of baskets from both squads, with the defensive-minded NU managing to slow down the trigger-happy Tamaraws to set the pace for the quarter. A five-point salvo from Ron Dennison would put FEU in the lead, 14-13. NU big man Alfred Aroga would fire back with a basket at the other end of the court to take back the lead, 15-14, to close out the quarter.
The Bulldogs would enter the second quarter with all guns blazing. A seven-point explosion from Reden Celda would put NU up 30-18, halfway through the quarter. FEU’s Mac Belo, finally putting one in after a quiet first quarter, would signal the start of a massive FEU run. The Tamaraws would go on an 11-0 run in the next three minutes, with consecutive baskets from Raymar Jose cutting the deficit to a lone point, 29-30, with a little less than three minutes left on the clock. Troy Rosario would manage to fire back with a layup on the other end to put an end to the run and put the Bulldogs up by 32-29. At the end of the second quarter, the Bulldogs would hold on to the lead, 38-35. Leading the Bulldogs was Troy Rosario with 11 points in the half, and leading the Tamaraws was Mike Tolomia, also with 11.
The third quarter however would see another massive rally from the Tamaraws. Kicked off by a breakaway three from Mac Belo, a 10-0 rally by the cagers in green and gold would put FEU in the lead, 45-41 halfway through the third quarter. Unable to find a way to stop the fired-up Tams, the Bulldogs would find themselves in a 47-60 hole late in the quarter. A split free throw opportunity and a basket from Glenn Khobuntin would trim the deficit to 50-60 at the end of the third.
The Tamaraws would continue pacing the game, holding on to the lead despite a resurgent NU squad, who would lead on Gelo Alolino and Alfred Aroga to stay in the running. With two and a half left on the clock, the Tamaraws would hold on to the lead, 69-63. However, the Bulldogs would only prove to still have some bite left in them. A basket from Alolino and a trifecta from J-Jay Alejandro to counter an R.R Pogoy basket would trim the deficit to a manageable 68-71, with a minute left on the clock.
A layup on the fast break from Mac Belo would put the Tamaraws up by five, 73-68, with 44.3 left on the clock. However, the foul-plagued Tamaraws would give up two crucial fouls in the next few possessions, giving Alfred Aroga and Gelo Alolino the means to trim the lead, after being awarded the free throw opportunities. Both players would split their respective charities, but would trim the lead to a manageable 73-30, with 38.5 left on the clock.
Up by three, 73-70, with the clock ticking down, the Tamaraws would have the chance to sink one more to seal the victory, but would lose the ball while running down to their end of the court. For the next few seconds, the court would be covered in green and gold and blue and gold, with players from both sides diving for the ball. It was NU’s Gelo Alolino who would manage to get hold of the loose ball, but with the clock just just about to expire, had little time to get into position for the hail mary. He would however find Glenn Khobuntin waiting behind the three-point, but Khobuntin’s would fall short of the hoop. Shortly after the buzzer sounded, it was ruled that Alolino had fouled FEU’s Achie Inigo during the chaos of the last few seconds. With .07 left on the clock, Inigo would go on to sink both free throws to put the icing on the cake for the Tamaraws and bring home the victory for game one.
Mike Tolomia led the Tamaraws with 15 points, 11 in the first half, along with 6 rebounds and 3 assists. R.R Pogoy had 14, while Achie Inigo had 12 markers, all in the second half. Mac Belo, the hero of FEU’s semi-final series against the De La Salle Green Archers, was held to 8 points.
Alfred Aroga led the Bulldogs with 17 points and 8 rebounds. Gelo Alolino had 14 points, while Troy Rosario had 12 points.
“Same approach as the semis. The most important game is the first game. We will treat the next match as a do-or-die game,” said FEU head coach Nash Racela at the post-game huddle.
The second match in the finals series between FEU and NU will be held on October 8, Wednesday, at the Araneta Coliseum. A victory for the Tamaraws on Wednesday will give them the title. The Tamaraws last won the finals in 2005 against La Salle.