Final Four-ward! La Salle knocks out FEU as they march on to semis

Tamaraw Anthony Hargrove hoisted a baseline jumper over the outstretched arms of Norbert Torres, and the leather sailed easily towards the net, re-establishing the Tamaraws’ lead to ten, 60-50, with only 6:46 left in the ballgame.

And as Almond Vosotros brought the ball downcourt for the Archers’ next possession, Torres and his teammates knew that in order for them to realize their dream of returning to the Final Four, they would have to dig deep and mount a comeback unlike any that they have accomplished this season.

And so began La Salle’s toughest climb of the season, starting in that same possession, when the six-foot-six Torres received the ball at the post and dumped it in for two points that trimmed the FEU lead to eight points. For the entire game it seemed as if the nerves of these Tamaraws were made of steel, as they repeatedly found ways to put the ball through the hoop and pad their lead.

But just like their last meeting, La Salle would remind these boys from Morayta once more just why they are the league’s best defensive team.

It seemed like an aberration on the MOA Arena’s imposing electronic scoreboard, but the Tamaraws’ 60 points stood still for the next six minutes and ten seconds. And by the time the Green Archers’ rally had ended, Norbert Torres had 21 points (on a 7-for-9 shooting from the field and 7-for-8 from the line) across his name, the Tamaraws suddenly found themselves down by seven with less than a minute left, and La Salle had scored a staggering 17 unanswered points.

“We just refused to lose,” Head Coach Gee Abanilla would later say to the members of the press right after the contest. And there seemed to be no other way to put it.

However, two quick trifectas by Terrence Romeo and RR Garcia was a painful reminder for everyone that the final buzzer had not yet sounded and the game is still being played, and the 67-60 lead by the Green Archers was suddenly cut down to a solitary point.

“The first thing I told them was not to panic, because all we needed was a good inbound,” Abanilla mentioned regarding the game’s last few pulsating sequences. “And they fouled us once we were able to get the ball across, and it helped us.”

A couple of ulcer-inducing inbound plays later and Jeron Teng found himself with twenty sticks left at the loneliest place in the entire arena: The free-throw line. But after flubbing the first charity, he calmly made the second and gave La Salle a precarious two-point lead, 66-68.

And after a travelling infraction on Tamaraw Mike Tolomia, it was Almond Vosotros, who has averaged 15 points in the second round of the eliminations after averaging only five points during the first round, will be the one who would peg the game’s final count after also making one of his two free throws.

And as Romeo tried a harmless heave from about sixty feet near the halfcourt line as the final horn finally sounded, a different chant echoed from the galleries filled with supporters garbed in Green-and-White: “Animo La Salle! Beat Ateneo! Animo La Salle! Beat Ateneo!”

Despite being down almost the entire game, the Green Archers embarked on a telling 19-6 run in the game’s last 6:46 in order to finally hold off the FEU Tamaraws in the battle for the fourth and last slot in the semis, 69-66, earlier today at the MOA Arena in Pasay City. The win allowed La Salle to enter the Final Four for the first time since 2010 and the 16th time since the format was introduced in 1994.

The victory also extended the Archers’ season, as they will be going up against the four-time defending champions Ateneo Blue Eagles this Saturday, September 29, for their first game in the Final Four.

“We were able to limit their production in the fourth quarter, and I think that’s the key to our victory,” said Abanilla, referring to the fact that the Archers were able to hold down FEU to only two field goals in the game’s last six minutes. Norbert Torres scored 11 of his game-high 21 points in that pivotal run, and after making a putback with 2:22 left in the game, he gave La Salle their first taste of the lead since the score was 4-2 in favor of the Archers during the game’s early goings.

“I just did what the coaches wanted,” said Norbert Torres, who also had 13 rebounds, including eight from the offensive glass. “We were also thinking that we didn’t want this game to be the last for Jovet [Mendoza] and Joshua [Webb],” he added, referring to his teammates who will be graduating after this season.

Jeron Teng, who averaged 16.6 points per game during the eliminations and is virtually a lock to win the Rookie of the Year plum, added 15 points, three rebounds and two assists despite shooting only 5-for-12 from the field. Should he pocket the award for the league’s best newcomer, he will be the first Archer to do so since JV Casio bagged the award in 2003.

And when asked about his thoughts regarding their upcoming game against the Blue Eagles who hold a twice-to-beat edge over them, Abanilla said that “It will be an exciting match, but obviously we are the underdogs. But we’re really happy with the way we are playing right now and the team is peaking at the right time.”

The Scores:

DLSU69– N. Torres-21, Teng-15, Vosotros-9, Van Opstal-8, T. Torres-7, Mendoza-7, Andrada-2, Webb-0, Manguera-0, Tampus-0, Revilla-0

FEU-66- Romeo-13, M. Bringas-12, Garcia-8, Hargrove-7, Mendoza-7, Pogoy-6, Belo-5, Escoto-4, Tolomia-2, A. Bringas-2, Sentcheu-0, Foronda-0, Cruz-0

Quarterscores: 13-19, 28-35, 46-52, 69-66