The De La Salle University (DLSU) Green Archers bowed out of their UAAP Season 81 Final Four hopes after suffering a horrendous defeat to the Far Eastern University (FEU) Tamaraws, 70-71, on Wednesday, November 21, at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
With 73 seconds remaining in the game, Aljun Melecio found a way to split the Tamaraws’ double team, drove to the basket, and converted the reverse layup. That placed the Taft-based squad up by four, 70-66, in what seemed to be the dagger to the Morayta-based squad.
Still down by two, 68-70, seventy seconds later, Arvin Tolentino hit the biggest shot of the night, a wide open triple from top of the key that put FEU up by one, 71-70, with three seconds left. A triple that huge eventually allowed the Tamaraws to break into the Final Four and knock the Green Archers out. To add to that, it brought back memories from three years ago when former Tamaraw Mac Belo hit the dagger three that also booted La Salle out of the playoffs.
La Salle started the game a bit flat, allowing Kenneth Tuffin to hit back-to-back triples to put his team up by four, 8-4. Wendell Comboy and Tolentino each connected from downtown to extend their lead to seven, 17-10. Then, the Green Archers answered with an 8-2 run capped by a triple from Joaqui Manuel to cut their deficit to a single point, 18-19, with 1:10 remaining in the opening period. Team captain Kib Montalbo buried a long bomb that eventually gave the lead back to La Salle, 21-19. However, Axel Iñigo beat the buzzer with his own three to put FEU up by one, 22-21, after one quarter.
At the 6:48 mark of the second frame, Andrei Caracut drilled a triple from top of the key and completed the four-point play. The Green and White led by four, 29-25. A few moments later, the Green Archers found themselves down by one again, 35-36, following consecutive baskets by Barkley Eboña. Jollo Go swished a deep three-pointer from the right wing to give La Salle the lead, 38-35, heading into the dugout.
Early into the second half, the Green Archers struggled with their defense, once again leading to a slow start. They allowed the Tamaraws five straight charities that placed them back at the driver’s seat, 41-40. Tolentino extended the FEU run with a fast break off an in-bound steal. However, Melecio kept La Salle within striking distance after tying it at 45-all with 3:50 remaining. The Green Archers had their chances to retake the lead, but they failed to grab the offensive rebound off a Richard Escoto missed free throw. As a result, they trailed the Tamaraws, 51-54, at the end of the third canto.
Escoto continued to punish La Salle after converting a three-point play to open the final period. Down by six, 51-57, the Green Archers continued to attack the cup and relied on their free throws to put their team at bay. Santi Santillan and Montalbo nailed consecutive freebies to make it a one-point game, 58-59, still in favor of the opponents. Melecio knotted it at 60-all with another pair of free throws. Then, Santillan drew a foul on Prince Orizu and finally gave La Salle a two-point cushion, 62-60, after draining yet another pair. Moreover, the foul on Orizu was already his fifth, still with 4:30 remaining.
Santillan drove to the basket and connected a layup as the Green Archers maintained their four-point lead, 68-64. However, Jasper Parker sank two free throws in their next possession to bring FEU back to within two, 68-66. The following sequences were huge shots by Melecio and Tuffin, and the biggest shot of the night for the FEU Tamaraws.
Comfortably ahead the FEU Tamaraws and University of the Philippines (UP) Fighting Maroons at third place, the DLSU Green Archers ended their Season 81 campaign with three straight losses, including a 81-97 defeat from the Fighting Maroons that set up their showdown with the Tamaraws. Their last two defeats saw the Green Archers slid from third seed to fifth seed, one loss at a time.
La Salle bid goodbye to Kib Montalbo, who finished with seven points, and Santi Santillan, who led the team with 20 markers.
Arvin Tolentino led his team with 15 points, while Barkley Eboña, Kenneth Tuffin, and Richard Escoto also finished in double figures with 12, 11, and 10, respectively.
DLSU 70 – Santillan 20, Melecio 9, Caracut 9, Montalbo 7, Baltazar 6, Manuel 5, Samuel 4, Dyke 3, Go 3, Bates 2, Serrano 2
FEU 71 – Tolentino 15, Eboña 12, Tuffin 11, Escoto 10, Comboy 8, Parker 7, Iñigo 5, Cani 2, Orizu 1, Stockton 0, Gonzales 0, Bienes 0