The problem for La Salle was that they could not secure the ball.
The problem for Adamson was that they could not buy a basket.
With the Archers holding a precarious three-point lead in the game’s dying minutes, the Falcons opted for a three to try to tie. In their last nine attempts to end the game, seven had been from beyond the arc. Fortunately for La Salle, none of them found their mark as they were able to hold the fort on defense despite gifting the Falcons with extra possessions because of uncharacteristic turnovers and failure to box out their big men.
And when Adamson resorted to fouls to try to extend the game and get the ball back, it was team captain Jeron Teng who iced the game from the free-throw line to make sure that his team would be back in the UAAP Finals after a three year absence.
Despite an error-filled performance, the top-seeded Green Archers made a return trip to the UAAP Finals at the expense of former head coach Franz Pumaren and the fourth-seeded Adamson Soaring Falcons, 69-64, in their Final Four match earlier today at the Mall of Asia Arena. The Archers now await the winner of the FEU-Ateneo Final Four match this Saturday which will determine their opponent in the Finals.
Teng and Ben Mbala led the Archers, with Teng finishing with 25 points on a sizzling 10-of-18 shooting while adding four rebounds, an assist, and a block. Mbala, the likely recipient of the UAAP’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) Award, had a double-double of 21 points and 16 rebounds, while also adding four blocks. However, no other Archer finished with more than six points.
The victory, however, was far from an easy one for La Salle. The team committed 26 turnovers, with Teng having seven of them. The team also merely had three assists despite averaging nearly 15 a game in the elimination round, relying mostly on isolation plays to generate their offense.
Teng did make the most out of these plays, pouring 11 of his 25 in the payoff period, including a lay-up with 4:32 left that gave the Archers a 60-58 lead, a lead they would not relinquish. An unsportsmanlike foul was then called on Falcon Rob Manalang after a push on DLSU’s Aljun Melecio. Teng scored on a lay-up in the ensuing possession, and La Salle widened its lead to 65-60 after a split at the line following a technical foul on Pumaren.
The Falcons, playing in the Final Four for the first time since 2011, still had a lot of fight in them, as Sean Manganti made four free throws to bring his team to within one, 64-65. That was when Teng answered back for the Archers, making a jumper that made it 67-64, with time down to just 2:23. In the end, Teng scored the last seven points of La Salle and 11 of their final 17.
La Salle stormed out of the gates at the beginning, leading by as much as seven, 9-2, early in the first, with Teng scoring seven of the team’s nine first points. Adamson, however, responded with a 7-0 run of their own on baskets by Sean Manganti and Rob Manalang to knot the count for the first time in the contest.
A basket by Dawn Ochea gave the Falcons a slim 28-25 lead midway through the second period, but the Archers strung together a 12-1 run to turn a three-point deficit into a 37-29 lead, which turned out to be the game’s biggest. They held Adamson without a basket for five minutes before lay-ups by Ahanmisi and Jonathan Espeleta allowed the Falcons to trim the La Salle lead to 33-37 at the turn. The Archers shot a sizzling 54% at the half, but committed 15 turnovers which the Falcons exploited and turned into 14 points, allowing them to stay within striking distance.
Manganti led the Falcons with 13 points, six rebounds, and three assists, while Manalang had 12 points, four rebounds, two assists, and two steals. Papi Sarr finished with 11 points and seven rebounds for Adamson, though he was hounded by foul trouble for the entire game. The Falcons had 11 steals and had more offensive rebounds than the Archers, 16-14, and less turnovers, 15-26, allowing them to keep the game close throughout. The problem was that they shot just 31.9% from the field, including a paltry 19% (5-of-26) from distance as La Salle was able to clamp down on their vaunted perimeter scoring.
Finals Schedule: Game 1 of the UAAP Finals will be held on Saturday, December 3, 3:30pm at the Mall of Asia Arena.
La Salle – 69 – Teng-25, Mbala-21, Torres-6, Melecio-6, Tratter-4, Montalbo-3, Rivero, P.-2, Rivero, R.-2, Caracut-0, Paraiso-0, Perkins-0
Adamson – 64 – Manganti-13, Manalang-12, Sarr-11, Ahanmisi-9, Espeleta-9, Ochea-5, Tungcab-3, Bernardo-2, Mustre-0, Paranada-0, Camacho-0, Barrera-0, Chua-0, Ng-0
Quarterscores: 22-20, 37-33, 50-51, 69-64