After blowing almost-won game, Green Archers must now focus on the second round

Despite one bad call or another non-call, DLSU and the community must remember the golden rule of never putting the outcome of a close game in the hands of the referees. The fake hand-off play to have Ben Mbala get a driving lane to the basket in yesterday’s 75-76 loss to the Ateneo Blue Eagles was planned and executed well however, the AdMU defense was ready with a double-team and no whistles were blown even with obvious contact.

The Green Archers obviously could have won yesterday’s ballgame during the last 9.1 seconds of the game, but the defending UAAP men’s basketball champions really lost because of their showing during the first 10 minutes of the match. Usually the team that starts out hot, La Salle was held to a season-low 16 first quarter points to finish the first round with a 5-2 win-loss record at the Mall of Asia Arena.

What made matters worse was the inability of our backcourt players to shadow the Eagles’ shooters, enabling them to make seven first half trifectas; six in the vital first quarter alone. With the team’s defensive scheme of going under the screens of AdMU’s bigs, Ateneo’s Anton Asistio and Matt Nieto burned our perimeter defense with their outside shooting, combining to hit six three-pointers.

DLSU’s Mayhem, instead of being inflected on their opponents, was uncharacteristically ineffective against a well-coached and well-executing Ateneo five that leaned on fundamentals and ball and player movement to get open shots.

La Salle was still in disarray until the 3:09 mark before intermission when the team unleashed an 8-2 run to trimmed a 28-41 deficit to only six with two more quarters to play. It didn’t help that the Green Archers’ free throw woes, thought to have been cured six games into Season 80, reappeared at the worst possible time as the team hit just 1/7 at halftime and 5/13 overall.

Whatever nerves or funk the team had in the first and second quarters were gone after intermission. However, despite several attempts to tie or take the lead including a thunderous dunk and scream of “Let’s go!” from Mbala at the 8:24 mark, La Salle still could not get past several five-point deficits.

Still trailing 57-63 with 21.7 seconds remaining, Ben once again rocked the rim with his put back jam off an Andrei Caracut miss while Jolo Go buried a three off a steal for a 62-63 score to give DLSU some momentum heading into the fourth. With Ben being called for his fourth foul early in the final frame, the rest of the team did their best to still be effective and was finally rewarded with a 71-all score after Caracut’s jumper with 4:08 remaining.

The remaining moments of the game was tight and wild to say the least. The thousands at the venue (and millions watching from the TV) thought that La Salle would get to blemish Ateneo’s immaculate 6-0 record after Ben hit two free throws with 1:03 remaining for a 75-74 lead. Holding the Blue Eagles without a field goal during the last 5:15 minute of the match, DLSU actually had the possession with 9.1 seconds remaining and only needed to properly inbound the ball.

A Kib Montalbo bad pass, Caracut turnover, a Montalbo foul, and resulting two free throws from Nieto later, the Green Archers still had a couple of chances to shoot for the win with 3.9 seconds left but unfortunately could not pull out the win.

With his daring drives and fearless demeanor, sophomore Ricci Rivero did his best impression of former team captain Jeron Teng and finished as the leading scorer for the Archers with 19 points, four rebounds, three assists, and three steals, while Mbala, after averaging 33.5 points in four games, was held to more “mortal” numbers of 18 points and 13 rebounds.

It’s hard to make excuses at this point but the availability of players has been one of the reasons for DLSU’s worse record after sweeping the first round last year. Mbala was previously unavailable due to national team duties with Cameroon in the AfroBasket, while crack guard Aljun Melecio has been scratched from the line-up these past two games because of Dengue.

Chemistry and proper identification and acceptance of their role in the grand scheme of head coach Aldin Ayo’s Mayhem system is still a work in progress for the defending champions. With the second round fast approaching and first round victims like the FEU Tamaraws still licking their wounds after losing 90-95 a month ago, we better hope and pray that the boys will get their stride and championship swagger back.

The DLSU Green Archers faces the FEU Tamaraws on October 11 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum. /SFCA

Animo La Salle!