It ain’t over til it’s over. The streaking University of the East Red Warriors repulsed the University of Santo Tomas Growling Tigers, 78-73, to extend their season by at least one more game, a playoff against the NU Bulldogs for the 4th and final postseason seed. Bong Galanza continued his excellent play by leading a balanced Warriors offense with a team-high 17 points, to go along with 7 boards. Aljon Mariano’s final game in Tigers colors ended on an even sourer note when he fouled out with 52.5s to go, but he bucked his season-long slump with a game-high 18 points. The Red Warriors’ 5th consecutive win caps a dramatic late-season push, which sees them tied with the 9-5 Bulldogs for the fourth and last Final 4 berth. UST wraps up a disappointing season which saw them slide from the heights of the Season 76 championship match all the way to the 3rd worst record in the tournament.
UE’s win was again spiced by a little controversy, as star big man Charles Mammie sat out the entirety of the first half. The Red Warriors centre was benched by now-famous disciplinarian and UE Head Coach Derrick Pumaren following Mammie’s tardy arrival to the Smart Araneta Coliseum. Ace UE gunner Roi Sumang was also consigned to the bench, continuing his recent transformation into lethal 6th man for the Warriors. Aljon Mariano and fellow UST starter Ed Daquioag exploited their initial absence to score 5 apiece, giving the Tigers an early 17-15 advantage. Sumang would then play the entirety of the second quarter, partnering starting guard Dan Alberto. The pair, along with the shifty Galanza, orchestrated a 21-point second quarter which handed the Warriors a slim 36-35 lead heading into the lockers at halftime. UE’s momentum only intensified in the third period, as Mammie returned to great fanfare. The Warriors took the opportunity at halftime to cast a vote on whether or not Mammie’s punishment should extend into the second half, and the result was a resounding no. UST immediately suffered the brunt of the liberated centre’s frustration, as Mammie quickly put up the first two points of the half. It was the Tigers turned to be punished from thereon, as Dan Alberto and Bong Galanza poured in a combined 15 3rd quarter points on the sinking UST squad. UE took the lead for good in that decisive 24-15 third period, and UST could only flail meekly against the inevitable. The frustrated Tigers would come no closer than 5 points, and even that only came on a last-second Daquioag basket.
Dan Alberto was excellent in the starting point guard role for the Warriors, putting up 15 points on only 8 shots. Usual starter Roi Sumang also sparkled in limited minutes, scoring 10 while dishing out 5 assists in 20 minutes of play. Paul Varilla, Charles Mammie and Chris Javier also chipped in at least 7 points for the commendably balanced Warriors. On the Tigers side, Ed Daquioag parlayed his hot start to 16 points in the contest. UST’s hulking Karim Abdul finished with 13 points, but more than half came with the game more or less out of the Tigers’ reach. More damning was his inability to rebound in the absence of Mammie, as Abdul managed a measly 4 boards against the UE swarm. Paolo Pe, who, like Mariano, played his last game for the Thomasians, put up an edifying 9 points, 6 caroms and 2 blocks.