For one half of basketball, the success-starved fans in maroon had plenty of reason to hope. In the next 20 minutes, the UST Growling Tigers would break those fans’ hearts by capitalizing on yet another late-game collapse by the UP Fighting Maroons. UST, who had just narrowly escaped with a win over cellar-dwellers AdU, blew away the over-matched UP in the second half to win 73-57, sparing the Tigers faithful from another nerve-wracking finish. The Growling Tigers climb to 3-1 while the dejected Fighting Maroons post their 26th consecutive loss, pinning them to the bottom of the standings with winless AdU. UST’s Karim Abdul was unstoppable in the paint against UP’s undersized frontline, finishing with 18 points, on 5/8 shooting, and 8 rebounds, 5 on the offensive end. Louie Vigil backed up Abdul’s strong performance by draining 3/8 threes to finish with 17 for the Growling Tigers. The Fighting Maroons squandered a good game by Dave Moralde, who preyed on UST’s leaky transition defence for 15 points on 5/11 shooting.
The Fighting Maroons held the early advantage in the contest, with Miguel Reyes and Dave Moralde combining for 15 of UP’s 19 points in the quarter. The Growling Tigers’ defence looked a step slow to start the game, allowing UP to shoot a blistering 53% from the field. A balanced effort from the Tigers, top-billed by the lanky Kevin Ferrer with 4 points, kept UST within striking distance, 19-14, to end the quarter.
Growling Tiger swingman Aljon Mariano, struggling this season after enjoying an excellent campaign in UAAP Season 76, led a quick UST run to start the quarter, paring the Maroons’ lead to 3, 25-22. Former Rookie of the Year Kyles Lao, who struggled for UP with only 6 points on 11 shots, united with Agustini Amar and Henry Asilum to fuel a 10-2 run for the Maroons. Asilum, a junior national team standout in the past, scored 7 of his eventual 10 points in that UP spurt, giving his Diliman-based squad a 37-27 advantage. Abdul would immediately quash the celebrations of the UP supporters, teaming up with Vigil for a 9-2 run to end the half positively for UST. The Fighting Maroons and Growling Tigers headed for the lockers at halftime with UP hanging onto a slim 39-36 advantage.
The towering Karim Abdul would impose his will on UP’s big men to start the second half as he powered a 10-1 UST rally. The Cameroonian native would overpower Fighting Maroons Angelo Vito and Mark Juruena, saddling them with personal fouls, en route to 8 points in the third period alone. The momentum swing would give the Tigers a 6-point cushion, 51-45 midway through the quarter. Asilum and Moralde would sink 3 late free throws to keep UP only 3 points down, 53-50, as the buzzer sounded.
Moralde and the feisty Diego Dario sent the UP fans into a frenzy with 2 swift baskets to open the decisive period; Dario’s sensational spinning, falling floater would give the hopeful Maroons a 54-53 lead. The pair of baskets turned out to be UP’s only field goals until the last seconds of the match. Aljon Mariano, who finished with 10 points, and Louie Vigil each poured in 5 points apiece in a heart-breaking 20-0 barrage. UP, who wound up shooting a miserable 24% in the second half after draining 53% in the first, could only hoist errant three after errant three as their desperation grew. To cap the UST surge, Mariano and Vigil nailed back-to-back long-range daggers, the last two nails in the UP coffin. With time winding down on another Fighting Maroons implosion, UP’s J.R. Gallarza would hit a three to end UP’s field goal drought, and wrap up the game’s scoring in favour of the UST Growling Tigers, 73-57.
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