In the first match-up between the finalists of last season’s UAAP Men’s Basketball Finals, it was senior Mike Tolomia who provided the clutch baskets for the Far Eastern University Tamaraws. Those were enough to halt the momentum of the National University Bulldogs, 61-59, as the Tamaraws co-share the top of the standings with the UST Growling Tigers.
The stingy National University defense was on full display at the start of the game as the Tamaraws were held scoreless in the first 3:20 of the game. However, the offense of the defending champions as they were only able to convert on the inside. After coach Nash Racela called for a timeout to relax his troops, Mike Tolomia immediately scored on his patented push shot to cut the lead to just one, 5-4. Two consecutive fins by Gelo Alolino to Reggie Morido was answered by free throws by Raymar Jose. With NU holding an 11-8 lead, a basket by Russel Escoto and a buzzer-beating three pointer by Roger Pogoy ended the quarter with FEU up, 13-11.
Sparkplug Jay Alejandro and Alfred Aroga pushed the Jhocson Street cagers to open the quarter. To counter that NU push, Mac Belo went aggressive on offense as well as he knocked down a three-pointer and a lay-up to keep in pace. Aroga was the only source of offense for the Bulldogs in scoring six straight points, all through drives, to gain a 30-24 lead. The FEU bleeding was stopped at the 1:29 mark with a Jojo Trinidad triple. Alolino would knock down two consecutive jumpers but was answered with a reverse layup by Tolomia to close the quarter with the Bulldogs leading 34-29.
Known more for their offense, the Green-and-Gold squad displayed a new facet in their game in the third quarter. The Tamaraws held the Bulldogs scoreless in the first 5:41 of the third quarter. The Eric Altamirano-mentored squad could not connect on their shots nor penetrate the lane due to the imposing lockdown defense of last season’s runner-up. During that span, Mike Tolomia. Francis Tamsi, and Belo were able to gain a 40-34 lead. Fortunately for the Bulldogs, their defense still kept them in the game in only allowing 11 points during that span. National University only scored on free thrwos by Aroga and Alejandro while only gaining their first field goal with three seconds remaining with an Aroga layup as the Tamaraws entered the final frame with a 45-40 lead.
With the Bulldogs looking to find an offensive source, Kyle Neypes stepped up in the fourth quarter as he led the NU offense in the final quarter. With FEU leading by just five with 4:21 remaining. Neypes knocked down a jumper to cut the lead to just three. In the next play, Pao Javellona was able to find a cutting Med Salim who was fouled by the older Escoto. FEU assistant coach Eric Gonzales was then assessed a technical foul due to his continuous questioning of the call. The Bulldogs though blew the opportunity to at least tie the game as they only made one of three free throws. Neypes made up for this with another jumper to tie the game at 52-all. With just 2:30 remaining, a calm Tolomia circled above the arc and drained a three-pointer at the top of the arc. In the next play, Tolomia returned to that same spot and knocked down another one to extend the lead back to six, 58-52.
The Bulldogs though made one last push with a minute to go. Javellona found an open Neypes for a three-pointer with 56.6 seconds to go while free throws by Alolino cut the lead to just two, 59-61, with 28.3 remaining. The Tamaraws rushed a shot that led to an Aroga rebound after but the outlet thrown by the foreign student-athlete was intercepted by Tamsi with two ticks left. Knowing that NU had no timeouts, Tamsi intentionally missed both free throws that led to the fifth straight win for FEU.
“Before the game sabi namin this is just another game,” Coach Nash Racela said about the matchup. “We just need to play with the same intensity just like in the other games.” However, it’s still in the back of their minds according to the head coach as he said, “it’s a good feeling to beat the defending champions.”
Mike Tolomia, however, said that this was special for them. “Iniisip namin na makabawi kami bago nung game. Kaso ni-remind kami ni coach na huwag isipin yun.” With the big shots he connected in the crucial minutes of the fourth quarter, the senior said that his confidence is coming from the trust his coaches give him.
Racela closed in saying that just like Coach Juno Sauler of La Salle and Coach Bong dela Cruz of UST, they are emphasizing defense. “People overlooked our defense. Same thing with the other coaches, it’s the same thing with us.”
Mike Tolomia was the only one who scored in double-figures for the Tamaraws with 19 points. He was 62% from the field and 3/6 from downtown. He added five assists. Mac Belo had nine points and seven boards.
For the defending champions, Alfred Aroga topscored with 17 points on 47% shooting. He also grabbed 14 rebounds. Smart Elite ambassador Gelo Alolino added 10 points, four boards, four assists, and four steals.
The NU Bulldogs shot just 40% from the field and just 18% from downtown compared to the 43% from the field by FEU. The Tamaraws also shot 40% from three-point country.
The FEU Tamaraws (6-1) will have no rest as they face the Ateneo Blue Eagles (4-3) on Sunday, October 11 at 11:00am at SM Mall of Asia Arena. The NU Bulldogs (3-4), on the other hand, will look to get back on the winning track against the UE Red Warriors (2-5) on Saturday, October 12 at 4:00pm at the SMART-Araneta Coliseum.
FEU (61) – Tolomia 19, Belo 9, Pogoy 7, Escoto Ru 5, Arong 4, Jose 4, Orizu 4, Tamsi 4, Trinidad 3, Escoto Ri 2, Comboy 0, Ebona 0, Holmqvist K 0, Holmqvist S 0, Inigo 0.
NU (59) – Aroga 17, Alolino 10, Neypes 10, Alejandro 7, Javelona 4, Morido 4, Abatayo 3, Salim 2, Tansingco 2, Diputado 0, Javillonar 0.
Quarterscores: 13-11, 29-34, 45-40, 61-59.
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