Through veterans Karim Abdul and Kevin Ferrer, and the late-game heroics of rookie Embons Bonleon, the University of Santo Tomas Growling Tigers overcame a slow start to sweep their regular season series against the Far Eastern University Tamaraws, 85-76, early Saturday evening at the Smart Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City.
The league-leading Tamaraws stormed to a huge 17-5 lead to open the game as the entire FEU starting five of Russell Escoto, Mike Tolomia, RR Pogoy, Prince Orizu, and Francis Tamsi were all running hot. The huge rally was capped by a booming triple from Tamsi. After a timeout, the veteran duo of Abdul and Ferrer led UST in a 7-2 rally that cut the lead to just seven, but this was cut short by strong drives from Mac Belo and Monbert Arong. Moreover, the hot-shooting of Tolomia continued as he scored eight in the quarter. A three-point play by Louis Vigil and a putback by Ferrer closed the period with FEU still on top 30-19.
Belo continued the FEU rampage to start the second quarter en route to the biggest lead of the game, 36-22. As the Tamaraws were about to breakaway, the Growling Tigers looked to Abdul to get them back in it. Abdul was in vintage form all throughout as he overpowered Escoto. Unforced turnovers also plagued the Tamaraws as UST were able to chip into the lead. A Jojo Trinidad turnover with 1:27 left before the break led to a Marvin Lee layup that cut the lead to just four, 45-41, while free throws by the rookie and Ferrer closed the quarter to tie the game at 45-all to enter the halftime break.
A three-pointer by Ferrer opened the third quarter to give UST its first lead of the game at 48-46. As the two teams exchanged baskets, another triple by the Smart Elite ambassador tied the game at 54-all, leading coach Nash Racela to call a timeout with 5:24 to go in the third. UST then continued their run to a 61-57 lead. With 2:28 to go in the quarter, Ferrer had to be subbed out as, according to him, he experienced palpitations and, as a precautionary measure, asked to go to the locker room for treatment. Embons Bonleon stepped up for their captain, scoring four of their last six points to extend the lead to 69-59 going into the final frame.
Vigil, though more of scorer, facilitated the teams’ offense to start the fourth quarter. The wingman was able to look for Abdul and Bonleon, the latter a three-pointer, that extended the UST lead to 13, 78-65, with 6:34 left. Tamsi responded with a three-pointer. After another three by Escoto that cut the lead to 10 with 4:20 remaining, the FEU defense held the Growling Tigers scoreless in the next three minutes even with Ferrer returning at the 4:59 mark. Orizu was able to score inside while a rainbow by Tolomia cut the lead to just five with 1:53 remaining. A Bonleon fader and free throws by Abdul extended the lead back to nine while misses by Tolomia, Tamsi, and Belo, all from long distance, sealed the game for UST, 85-76.
“Dumepensa lang kami.Tumatama lang talaga tres nila nung simula,” UST head coach Bong Dela Cruz said after the game. “Ang sabi ko lang sa kanila just enjoy playing defense.”
Karim Abdul, who produced a classic performance with 23 points on 7/13 shooting, added that it was all heart. “I did not want to be in a situation where there will still be a playoff for the twice-to-beat spot. I did not want to lose.”
Kevin Ferrer also spoke, assuring that he had recovered from the palpitation he experienced after eating chocolate before the game. “Okay na ako. Gusto ko bumalik sa game dahil kelangan nila ako.” The senior added 21 points on 5/15 shooting, was able to knockdown three threes and grabbed six boards.
In addition to the two veterans, Bonleon had 13 points on a 6/7 shooting clip. Vigil and lee added 13 and 11 markers respectively as well.
For the Tamaraws, Mike Tolomia led the team in scoring with 17 points but was just 5/14 from the field. Smart Elite ambassador Mac Belo had 12 points as well but had his worst shooting of the season in shooting just 4/12 from the field. He added nine boards in the loss.
The UST Growling Tigers shot a tad better than their opponents, 44% to 42%, but were able to force FEU into 22 turnovers that led to 17 turnover points. Moreover, the Espana cagers took better care of the ball in committing just nine turnovers.
The UST Growling Tigers (10-3) face the Adamson Soaring Falcons (3-10) in their final game of the regular season on Wednesday, November 11 at 2:00pm, while the FEU Tamaraws (10-2) play their penultimate game on Saturday, November 14 against the NU Bulldogs at 4:00pm.
UST (85) – Abdul 23, Ferrer 21, Bonleon 13, Vigil 13, Daquioag 11, Lee 4, Faundo 0, Lao 0, Sheriff 0, Suarez 0.
FEU (76) – Tolomia 17, Tamsi 15, Belo 12, Pogoy 8, Escoto Ru. 6, Arong 5, Jose 4, Orizu 4, Trinidad 3, Inigo 2, Dennison 0, Ebono 0, Escoto Ri. 0.
Quarterscores: 19-30, 45-45, 69-59, 85-76.
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