The wait was worth it.
The De La Salle University Green Archers and the Far Eastern University Tamaraws figured in an early season thriller with the Taft cagers surviving the late comeback of the defending UAAP champions, 83-78, early Wednesday evening at the SM Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.
Jeron Teng finished the game with a game-high 28 points on 11-of-21 shooting to go along with six rebounds. Ben Mbala added a monstrous double-double with 13 points and 23 rebounds. He added four swats to his statline.
“A win is a win. That was a hard fought game,” La Salle head coach Aldin Ayo said about his first UAAP win. “Kalawang e and that was our first game since three weeks. May rust factor sa decision-making, defense, and sa end game.”
As expected the Green Archers were able to impose its will on the Tamaraws, leading by as much as 16 points 66-50 with 6:36 left in the third frame. However, the heart of a champions, as cliche as it sounds, showed for the champions.
Behind the effort of King Tamaraw Raymar Jose, the Tamaraws fought back, slowly chipping into the lead as the Tamaraws went on a 15-2 run to cut the lead to just three, 66-63, to entering the final frame. The rally was highlighted by a spectacular pass by Jose to a cutting Price Orizu for a dunk and was capped by a floater by Kenneth Tuffin over Mbala.
The Green Archers, displaying Ayo’s patented “mayhem” defense, was able to gain a 74-69 edge after forcing FEU to numerous errors. The Tamaraws though continued to fight valiantly, going on a 5-0 run after Ron Dennison pickpocketed Teng that led to a basket for Wendel Comboy to tie the game at 74-all with 3:53 left.
However, during that possession, Jose, a tireless workhorse for FEU, fell to cramps and had to be subbed out. To make matters worse, Axel Inigo, who had been playing quality minutes with seven points in 15 minutes, was brought out of the game after hurting his left knee.
Without the two, Teng had a field day scoring six straight points to give La Salle an 81-77 edge with 1:18 left. Misses by Trinidad and turnovers in the end game led to a win for La Salle.
Rookie Aljun Melecio added 10 points for the Archers while Abu Tratter added seven points and eight rebounds.
“We also have role players, si Tommy [Torres], si Julian [Julian, he did not score, but he played well on defense,” the former Letran Knights head coach beamed. “Montalbo, melecio, Abu Tratter, and the rest of the guys.”
Surprisingly, La Salle committed more turnovers ocmpared to FEU, 27 to 17 which Ayo lamented.
“Just decision-making. Guys did not make good decisions,” he said.
For FEU, Ron Dennison was the high point man with 13 points. Prince Orizu added 10 points and 10 rebounds.
The DLSU Green Arcers (1-0) will next face the UP Maroons (0-1) on Saturday, September 10 at 2:00pm. The FEU Tamaraws (0-1) look to vent its frustrations on the Adamson Soaring Falcons (1-0) the day after at 2:00pm. Both games will be played at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
DLSU (83) – Teng 28, Mbala 13, Melecio 10, Tratter 7, Montalbo 6, Rivero 6, Torres 4, Caracut 4, Go 3, Sargent 2, Baltazar 0
FEU (78) – Dennison 13, Trinidad 12, Arong 11, Orizu 10, Comboy 10, Jose 7, Inigo 7, Tuffin 4, Escoto 2, Nunag 2, Bayquin 0, Holmqvist 0, Ebona 0
Quarterscores: 28-25, 51-43, 66-63, 83-78.