The Far Eastern University Tamaraws needed to dig deep to escape the clutches of the National University Bulldogs in a 78-75 win, taking second place to end the first round of the UAAP Season 79 Men’s Basketball tournament, Wednesday evening at the SM Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.
“Within our target. I think lahat naman ng teams, yan ang target,” FEU head coach Nash Racela said. “To get wins, para maka-advance. This is still the first round, we still have seven games after this, doesn’t really mean anything. Mahaba pa yung laban.”
Monbert Arong led four Tamaraws in double-figures with 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting. Wendell Comboy and Axel Inigo added 14 and 12 markers respectively. Richard Escoto also made his return to the game, scoring 10 points off the bench.
The Tamaraws were up by as many as 13 points early in the final frame, 66-53, after a three-point play conversion by Prince Orizu.
Needing an offensive spark, Jjay Alejandro took charge for the Bulldogs when they needed it the most. The 21-year-old gunslinger showcased his entire repertoire, from his dazzling jumper to his daredevil drives, as he scored 11 straight points to cut the lead to just four with 4:53 remaining.
“The first three quarters, medyo okay, in the last quarter they had 25. Those things happen. Biglang nag-explode si Alejandro,” Racela said. “He was really aggressive. He’s really tough to defend. Credit goes to their coaches. Seeing that, in the end we just had to make our own adjustments. Good thing it wasn’t too late.”
A triple by Axel Iñigo tried to stop FEU’s bleeding, but baskets by Alfred Aroga, JV Gallego, and Alejandro, the last basket coming from a Monbert Arong turnover, knotted things up at 71-all with 2:05 left.
However, turnovers plagued the Bulldogs in the end game. After an excellent find by Raymar Jose to a cutting Ron Dennison for a layup, Aroga was called for travelling, leading to a basket for Escoto to extend the lead to four once again with 1:06 left.
A split on the stripe by Alejandro, misses by Gallego and Aroga, and a second travelling call on Aroga compounded NU’s problems. Freebies by Dennison and Wendell Comboy negated a late triple by Matt Salem to seal the win.
Alejandro finished the game with a career-high 31 points on a 12-of-18 shooting clip, 7-of-8 from the stripe, to go along with nine rebounds. Alfred Aroga added 14 points and 14 rebounds but had four turnovers.
The NU Bulldogs finish the first round with a 4-3 record, tied with the Adamson University Falcons and the Ateneo de Manila University Blue Eagles.
FEU (78) – Arong 20, Comboy 14, Inigo 12, Escoto 10, Orizu 7, Trinidad 6, Dennison 5, Jose 4, Tuffin 0, Bayquin 0, Holmqvist 0, Ebona 0, Nunag 0.
NU (75) – Alejandro 31, Aroga 14, Salem 9, Gallego 9, Salim 4, Diputado R 2, Aquino 2, Mosqueda 2, Abatayo 2, Morido 0, Diputado C 0, Sinclair 0, Rangel 0.
Quarterscores: 17-14, 39-32, 59-50, 78-75