Winning, whether by the slimmest of margins or by the biggest of blowouts will mask any weakness or bad habits. The euphoria of winning during the seven-game winning streak of the De La Salle Green Archers certainly erased the nightmares of the 0-2 start for Season 77. After more than a month of getting the privilege to sing the La Salle alma mater first, the defending champions crashed back to Earth, losing once again to Far Eastern University, 74-70.
With all due respect to the Ateneo de Manila Blue Eagle and National University Bulldog teams, this second round match-up had all the elements of a title series. The inconveniently scheduled Wednesday game not only had a playoff vibe but also down-the-wire, all-or-nothing and give-your-everything atmosphere from both sides.
The Tamaraws were up by eight, their biggest of the game with 2:55 to go courtesy of a Mac Belo layup. Down but not out, La Salle converted second chance opportunities on three straight plays to trim the lead to just one, 68-69 with less than minute to go.
Breaks of the game however favored the Morayta-based squad as two non-calls: one when Almond Vosotros’ path was blocked by Russel Escoto and got the ball stripped and the other on a Jeron Teng drive against Anthony Hargrove with 8.3 seconds proved to be crucial to the final outcome.
The biggest break for FEU came on the penultimate play when no one boxed-out chief gunner Mike Tolomia. The fourth year guard rebounded his own miss from the charity stripe and with an under goal stab broke the hearts of La Salle and completed a season sweep for FEU and rise to 8-2 in the standings.
Jeron might have won the battle of superstars with 28 points, eight rebounds and four assists compared to Tolomia’s 22, five and three but would easily trade any post-game individual awards for the win.
Coach Juno Sauler and his wards might have fallen short in the two FEU losses, but the I still have faith in the team not to fall for the same mistakes in the coming games.
La Salle, being the taller team will almost always dominate the battle of the boards and for the whole game had a 55-43 advantage. The Archers grabbed a lion’s share of the rebounds in the first half with 23 defensive and 12 offensive rebounds compare to FEU’s 20 total rebounds.
In the second half, FEU had the slight advantage in both defensive (23-20) and offensive (eight versus DLSU’s seven), none bigger than dagger putback by Tolomia to seal the FEU comeback win.
With 19 turnovers, La Salle committed right at the average 18.5 errors during the seven-game winning streak. However, bulk of the mistakes happened during the second half where La Salle needed to fend off the FEU attack in the third period or to gain momentum and get back the lead at the fourth.
Where’s the support?
Yes, Jeron was a one-man wrecking crew, with Norbert Torres being the only other Green Archer to score in double-digits with 13 points and 10 rebounds. The Season 76 finals MVP scored 40% of the team’s points and shot almost a third of the team’s attempts.
FEU coach Nash Racela’s strategy to let the other Archers beat his team was a brilliant move. During a few stretches of the game, it seemed like Jeron was the only one willing to attack the Tamaraw defense, getting little to no contribution from everyone else.
Fellow starters Almond and Jason Perkins saw heavy minutes but combined to shoot 7/28 from the field. Although the duo combined for 21 rebounds and six assists, 15 total points will not be enough to beat a dangerous team like FEU.
With Julian Sargent getting the Tolomia assignment, Almond matched-up with FEU guard Achie Iñigo. Vosotros was unable to slow down the quick Iñigo and even got outscored, 10-7.
After leading 35-26 at the break, La Salle failed to match FEU’s increased energy and activity in the second half. The bench, a reliable source of points and effort for the past games was also missing in this match, scoring a season-low 10 points courtesy of five from Arnold Van Opstal, a Kib Montalbo three and a field goal from rookie Prince Rivero.
Learning from the first round encounter
After letting the Tamaraws shoot seven of 18 from three-point area in the first round, La Salle’s perimeter defense kept the FEU shooters silent, allowing only two of 16 this time, all from second-year guard Iñigo. The Tamaraws still used the dribble-handout to setup their shots from the outside and drive but DLSU was able to adjust, either by going hard through the screener or with help defense from other players.
Time will tell is this lost is merely a hiccup or a bad sign of things to come. The Green Archers might have let the opportunity to be the number one team in standings go but with four games left, still have the chance for the twice-to-beat advantage in the Final Four.
This season’s edition of DLSU might not feature a 7-0 sweep of any round like last year’s but the journey to the playoffs and championship doesn’t get any less exciting and interesting. Coach Juno Sauler and his wards might have fallen short in the two FEU losses, but the I still have faith in the team not to fall for the same mistakes in the coming games.