This time, there would be no extra sessions and the endgame celebration was not premature. Jeron Teng made sure of that.
Almond Vosotoros was just outside the half-court line and had been tasked to make the inbound pass for the Archers’ final offensive play with 3.3 ticks left on the game clock. He was being harassed by Tiger Jeric Fortuna, and his teammates were busy fighting off their defenders.
Suddenly, Jeron Teng broke free from the stifling defense of the long-limbed Kevin Ferrer who had been hounding him all game long and received the pass from Vosotros. He sprinted towards the basket, unmindful of his defender’s imposing presence, and calmly launched a jumper from the elbow.
Tigers Karim Abdul and Melo Afuang had been jockeying with the La Sale big men and were waiting below the basket in case the shot by Teng missed. But there was no need for that as the leather sailed towards the net as the buzzer sounded.
Despite struggling for most of the game and shooting a measly 4-for-13 from the field, Teng made the shot that mattered most, propelling the Green Archers past the UST Growling Tigers, 53-51, for their fourth straight triumph and sixth overall against three losses. Teng finished with nine points, seven caroms, and three assists and once more got the better of his elder brother Jeric, who finished with six points and six rebounds.
The Archers once more bucked the absence of two of their starters, LA Revilla and Yutien Andrada, who were both sidelined for the second straight game because of ankle sprains. Abanilla expects the two of them to be able to suit up in the Archers’ next game against arch-rivals Ateneo Blue Eagles, although he admits that their minutes may be limited.
“We’re lucky to survive the game because we still don’t have LA and Yutien and Almond had a stiff neck before the game, but hats off to Almond because he played his heart out and it was a total team effort,” said Archers Coach Gee Abanilla, referring to the Albay native Vosotros, who paced the Archers’ scoring with 12 points while adding three assists, two rebounds, and no turnovers while ably quarterbacking La Salle’s offense.
The Archers actually struggled mightily from the field, making only 28% of their shots, and coughing up the ball 20 times, but they made up for it by outrebounding one of the best rebounding teams in the UAAP, 44-32. La Salle also made good use of its freebies by making 14 of their 17 charities (82.4%) for one of their best showings at the 15-foot parallel in the tournament.
“We limited UST to 24 second half points and I think limiting their score was key to the victory,” Abanilla said about his team’s defense in the second half. The Tigers lead the league in three-pointers, second-chance points, and offensive boards, but were outclassed in all but one of those categories by the Archers.
As a testament to their stifling defense, Clark Bautista, who erupted for 21 points in their last meeting, was bottled up and mustered a paltry two points this time around. Aljon Mariano, who was the Tigers’ hero in their last few games including the previous one against La Salle, finished with only nine points while being hounded by Archers Jovet Mendoza, Papot Paredes, and Joshua Webb all game long.
In the team’s previous meeting in the first round, the Tigers outlasted the Archers 84-82 in an exhausting double overtime contest behind a go-ahead jumper by Mariano from the left wing. A buzzer-beater by LA Revilla at the end of regulation was reviewed by officials and later decided that the basket did not count due to the ball still being in his hands with no more time left on the clock.
“I’m grateful that Coach Gee trusted me with the last shot because I really wanted to contribute in the play,” said Teng about his play. “I wanted him to use his driving skills and fire a shot during the play, because I know Jeron can create shot for himself,” Abanilla commented about the last play.
With 1:35 remaining and the Green Archers ahead by only two, 49-47, Teng was fouled and sent to the free throw line for the first time in the game, but muffed both his charities, which still left the door ajar for the Tigers to engineer one of their patented endgame comebacks.
But Thomas Torres, who had also been doing point guard duties in Revilla’s absence, stole the ball from a pass that was intended for Jeric Teng and was fouled, and his two clutch free throws gave La Salle a little more separation from the Tigers. Torres finished with 10 points, six rebounds, two assists, and a steal.
But UST still had plenty of fight left, as two baskets by Abdul finally enabled them to knot things up at 51 with 3.3 seconds left. And it turned out that 3.3 seconds was all Teng needed to create a shot for himself and lift the Archers to yet another stirring victory.
Notes: With the win, the Green Archers have already surpassed their win-loss records in 2009 (Season 72) and last year (Season 74), as they crashed out of the eliminations in both those times with identical 5-9 win-loss cards; incidentally, those were also the two years I which they failed to qualify for the Final Four; the Archer’s four-game winning streak matched their longest since the first round of last year when they won four straight games to establish a 4-3 record at the end of the first round.
La Salle-53-Vosotros-12, Torres, T.-10, Teng-9, Torres, N.-8, Van Opstal-7, Mendoza-5, Manguera-2, Paredes-0, Gotladera-0, Tallo-0, Webb-0, Tampus-0
UST-51-Abdul-14, Mariano-9, Afuang-9, Fortuna-7, Teng-6, Vigil-2, Ferrer-2, Bautista-2, Pe-0, Lo-0, Daquioag-0
Quarterscores: 10-15, 22-27, 39-37, 53-51