Prior to the game, the student-cagers of Far Eastern University were wearing a shirt that read ‘Second Wind’. Yes, they have found a new lease on life.
After falling to a 5-6 slate late in the second round of the UAAP Season 81 Men’s Basketball Tournament, Arvin Tolentino and the Tamaraws have been playing inspired basketball. And on Wednesday evening, they capped their spectacular run with an all-important 71-70 victory over the De La Salle University Green Archers to book their slot in the Final Four.
“I love how this team battled through adversity all throughout the year,” expressed second-year Tamaraws head coach Olsen Racela. “They never gave up even nung may four-game losing streak kami. It’s just fitting that we made the Final Four this way.”
FEU keep their Final Four streak going with this victory inside the fabled SMART Araneta Coliseum, as the proud institution has made it to the semifinals for the sixth straight year. The Tamaraws will face the twice-to-beat-armed Ateneo Blue Eagles on Sunday, November 25, at the same venue.
And it was Tolentino who made it all possible.
“Ayoko isipin ng tao na nanalo kami dahil sa shot ko. Every shot was as big in this game,” shared the graduating forward.
Down 68-70 with just seconds remaining, Jasper Parker found his fellow senior Tolentino from the top of the key. The former league Rookie of the Year swished a long bomb with 3.1 seconds to spare to break the hearts of the Green Archers.
“Nagdasal ako. Buti na lang sinagot ni Lord yung dasal ko,” added Tolentino, who finished the game with 15 points, five rebounds, and two steals.
Louie Gonzalez, who is in his first year of duty as La Salle’s head coach, drew up a very clever play on the other end. However, Santi Santillan could not convert Aljun Melecio’s lob from the side as time expired.
Though FEU were making their shots in the final frame, La Salle played like there was no tomorrow, slashing through the lanes and making a living on the foul stripe. The Green Archers scored their first 10 points from the line, including shots off Prince Orizu’s fifth foul with 4:30 left.
The Green Archers scored their first field goal of the game with 2:47 left – a tough jumper by Aljun Melecio. Santi Santillan followed it up with a huge bucket that put La Salle up by four with 1:28 remaining.
Jasper Parker then scored on two free throws, but Melecio answered right back with a tough reverse layup over Barkley Ebona.
Tolentino’s partner Tuffin provided the spark, knocking down a long two, that set up Tolentino’s big shot. Tuffin had 11 markers.
But beyond the two, it was the fighting spirit of Ebona that drew praise from Racela.
“He exemplifies the spirit of FEU. He had ten offensive rebounds. Grabe yung puso ng bata na yun,” Racela said about Ebona, who had 12 points and 16 boards – 10 coming from the offensive end. “He gave us a lot of extra possessions in this game. Nag-cramps na siya pero nag-foul out si Prince so I had to bring him back. Sabi niya, ‘okay lang daw siya.’ Grabe talaga puso niya.”
On the other hand, La Salle missed the Final Four boat for the first time since the 78th season of the league.
Kib Montalbo and Santi Santillan played their final game for the Green Archers. Montalbo will end up with two UAAP championships.
Santillan was the sole double-digit scorer for La Salle with 20 points.
FEU 71 – Tolentino 15, Ebona 12, Tuffin 11, Escoto 10, Comboy 8, Parker 7, Inigo 5, Cani 2, Orizu 1, Stockton 0, Gonzales 0, Bienes 0
DLSU 70 – Santillan 20, Melecio 9, Caracut 9, Montalbo 7, Baltazar 6, Manuel 5, Samuel 4, Dyke 3, Go 3, Bates 2, Serrano 2
Quarterscores: 22-21, 36-38, 54-51, 71-70