Struggling from the field for most of the match, Paul Desiderio still proved to be the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons’ savior.
The Cebuano drilled a picturesque trey with 1.4 ticks left in the game that lifted the Fighting Maroons over the University of Santo Tomas Growling Tigers, 74-73, to open their UAAP Season 80 campaign with a win at the SM Mall of Asia Arena.
The Tigers started the game hot, going to bigman Steve Akomo for easy under-the-basket stabs that pushed them to a 19-11 lead with three minutes remaining in the first quarter.
UP answered with Akomo on the bench. The UST offense went silent for the rest of the quarter and allowed the Maroons to gather momentum heading into the second frame. Aside from early Zachy Huang jumpers, the Tigers struggled to get their offense going and coughed up turnovers. Built on quick transition hits, the Maroons raced to a 42-33 lead at the end of the second half.
The third canto was UP’s turn to play sloppy basketball. Starting off with bad shot selection and turnovers, the Maroons saw a wave of Steve Akomo dunks and UST lay-ins crash over them and was away their nine-point lead. UP, however, managed a late rally, trading baskets with the Tigers to salvage a tie before the final period.
Field goals turned into scarce commodities in the payoff period with both squads grasping for good shots. With 3:19 remaining, the Maroons seemed to have hit the Tigers with a knockout punch, with Akomo fouling UP slotman Ibrahim Quattara on an and-1 play. The Maroons not only took a 68-66 lead, but also dealt Akomo his fifth foul. The Tigers, however, found a savior in Vaughn Soriano, who gutted out four straight points and handed UST a 70-68 cushion with less than two minutes on the game clock.
A frantic final minute started with both squads trading free throws and UST coming out on top, 73-71, after Marvin Lee hit a pair of charities after an ill-advised Gelo Vito foul with five ticks remaining. UP countered with a gorgeous pin-down play for Paul Desiderio who drilled the game-winning 30-footer.
According to UP head coach Bo Perasol, Desiderio called his shot.
“Papasok ‘yan coach. Mananalo tayo,” Perasol remembered his graduating captain said.
“Ang dami ko nang tinira for the game, mahihiya pa ba ako?” Desiderio quipped. “Marami pa kaming pagdadaanan this season kaya first game pa lang, gusto ko nang ipakita na kaya namin.”
Desiderio was the only Fighting Maroon in double-digits with 17 points on six-for-twenty shooting. Gelo Vito played just 15 minutes but had nine points and six rebounds.
Marvin Lee topped the Tigers with 20 points, three assists, and three steals. Akomo had 15 and points and 14 boards in his UAAP debut.
UP looks to make it two in a row when it takes on Katipunan neighbors Ateneo Blue Eagles on Wednesday, September 13 at 4:00pm. UST, on the other hand, faces the Adamson Soaring Falcons on Saturday, Septeemb 16 at 4:00pm.
UP 74 – Desiderio 17, Vito 9, Webb 7, Gomez de Liano Ju 7, Manzo 6, Gomez de Liano Ja 6, Ouattara 4, Lim 4, Prado 4, Dario 4, Lao 4, Romero 2, Harris 0.
UST 73 – Lee 20, Akomo 15, Sta. Ana 11, Soriano 8, Huang 6, Garcia 5, Faundo 4, Arana 2, De Guzman 2, Basibas 0, Caunan 0, Kwawukumey 0, Macasaet 0, Romero 0.
Quarterscores: 18-19, 42-33, 57-57, 74-73.
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