With their backs against the wall, the National University Bulldogs bounced back from a slow start to stun the Far Eastern University Tamaraws, 87-84, to keep their Final Four hopes alive, Wednesday afternoon at the SMART-Araneta Coliseum.
It was an all-important win for the Bulldogs, as they are now just a game behind the fourth-running Tamaraws with a 5-8 slate.
“This is the dream. This is what I was expecting from our players,” said first-year Bulldogs head coach Jamike Jarin. “Yung maturity, di ba. Like what we said, we can fast-track everything, but the maturity, the experience, that you cannot fast-track. I’m happy right now because I saw the maturity. I hope it’s not too late.”
The Bulldogs needed to overcome a strong first half by FEU. During the first 20 minutes of the game, the Tamaraws had already knocked down 11 of their record-breaking 18 three-pointers, leading by as much as 15 points.
“We never bowed down. That was the experience, the maturity I was talking about, I saw it now and I’m just blessed to be around this young men,” Jarin added.
NU were able to battle right back in the third frame, tasting their first lead of the game with 2:30 left in the third frame. But the Tamaraws answered right back with a 17-0 run to once again take a 15-point lead, 79-64, with 8:17 remaining in the contest.
That’s when Jjay Alejandro and the NU quintet decided to buckle down and work.
“Issa Gaye just told everybody, I’ll take care of the boards, [Enzo] Joson kept on attacking. When J-Jay Alejandro asked for the ball in the fourth quarter, in halfitme I told him, Jay you need to score for us to have a chance,” recalled Jarin.
With Ron Dennison picking up his fourth foul midway through the quarter, Alejandro was finally able to free himself up, sparking a 22-2 NU rally capped by free throws by Gaye with 2:58 remaining that gave NU an 86-81 lead. The NU skipper scored 11 of his 17 points during that span.
“J-Jay ALejandro demanded for the ball, we gave him the ball, he made the right decisions, and we executed very well. Hats off to Alejandro but it was a total team effort,” said Jarin as Alejandro grabbed six rebounds and dished out nine dimes as well.
Senegalese student-athlete Gaye finished with 24 points on 9-for-14 shooting, to go along with 11 rebounds and two blocks.
Dennison was able to momentarily stop the bleeding after knocking down FEU’s 18th triple, a UAAP record, with 1:56 left. FEU had a chance to salvage a win with 13.5 seconds left, but Ino Comboy’s inbound was intercepted by Joson that led to free throws. With 3.5 seconds left, Arvin Tolentino’s triple missed, cementing NU’s huge upset.
Coming off a 20-point game in NU’s loss to La Salle last Saturday, Joson followed it up with 13 points on an efficient 5-for-8 shooting clip.
Tolentino and Dennison scored 21 points each for FEU with the former grabbing 10 rebounds as well.
The 18 triples by FEU are a league record.
NU next take on the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons in their final assignment for the round on Saturday, November 11. FEU, on the other hand, face the Adamson University Soaring Falcons on the same day.
NU 87 – Gaye 24, Alejandro 17, Joson 13, Mosqueda 8, Tibayan 7, Abatayo 6, Aquino 5, Diputado 4, Yu 2, Cauilan 1, Bartlett 0, Morido 0, Salem 0, Rangel 0, Lastimosa 0
FEU 84 – Tolentino 21, Dennison 21, Comboy 16, Cani 14, Inigo 3, Tuffin 3, Ebona 2, Escoto 2, Orizu 2, Parker 0, Trinidad 0
Quarterscores: 19-27, 39-47, 64-72, 87-84