Now that was a heck of game!
Almost given up for lost when they trailed by 10 points in the 4th quarter, the Green Archers came roaring back to shock the favored FEU Tamaraws, 69-66 to nail the last playoff slot and lock FEU out of the playoffs for the first time since 2007.
As Coach Gee so aptly put it, the Archers refused to lose despite playing badly for three and a half quarters. They bucked a poor start, falling behind after taking a short-lived 4-2 lead to hand FEU the initiative at the first quarter, 13-19. The Archers succumbed to nerves, committing a slew of errors, 10 in all just in the opening quarter. On the other hand, FEU played loose and capitalized on our errors to score 11 points off those turnovers. Our early game jitters saw the Archers manage only 10 attempts, which was a pity because we hit 6 of those attempts.
The second quarter was more competitive, which we yielded by only a point, 15-16. We cut down our errors to just 3, had more possessions as a result, and took 13 attempts from the field, but probably all that nervous energy saw our team misfire, making only 4 attempts. Our much-maligned free throw shooting kept us close, as FEU fouls sent our players to the stripe where we made 7/9.
Surprisingly, we shot better from the field in the first half, making 10/23 for 43% vs the 15/36 (42%) clip of FEU. FEU played better in the first half, almost matching our rebounding as they pulled down 16 to our 17, but were able to pull down 9 offensive rebounds to our 6. And they had more assists on 6 of their baskets to our measly 2. It wasn’t looking good.
We edged FEU in the 3rd, 18-17 behind our twin towers AVO and Norbert, who tallied 7 points each as we started to capitalize on our superior ceiling. 5 turnovers prevented us from gaining any sort of momentum, but our stiffer defenses held FEU to 7/19 shooting as most of their attempts were heavily contested. Our aggressive play resulted in 11 FEU fouls which gifted us with 17 trips to the stripe. Unfortunately, still pumped up with all that nervous energy, our players missed 7 of the freebies. FEU surprisingly fared worse from the line, hitting only a poor 2/7. We still trailed after 30 minutes, seemingly unable to faze the Tamaraws.
The final quarter started off disastrously, with FEU extending their lead to 10 at 48-58 as we missed our first 3 attempts. FEU still led 50-60 at the 6:38 mark, and things looked bleak for our team. Norbert, Jeron, and Jovet scored a basket each, and Almond nailed a long trey to close in at 59-60. Our bigs asserted their strength in the paint as we dominated the interior, routing the Tams on the boards, 18-3. Our defense went to lockdown mode, allowing FEU only 6 tries from the 2point area, and forcing them to take more attempts from beyond the arc – 8. Norbert scored 5 points as we finally took the lead, 64-60 before Thomas scored on the break with an and-1, 67-60 with 38 seconds left on the clock. It was looking good.
Then the Archers’ inexperience showed – Romeo scored on a quick trey using only 3 seconds, we called a timeout, and promptly lost the ball on the inbound to allow Garcia to hit from beyond the 3point line, lead down to 1 with 27 seconds still left in the game. As expected, FEU immediately fouled, Tolomia grabbing Jeron to send him to the line with 15 seconds left. Jeron only made 1 to allow FEU a chance to tie or grab the lead. Again, defense came to our rescue, Tolomia drove the lane but was blanketed, and with nowhere to go, he committed a travelling error, 3 seconds left. With no choice, FEU fouled Almond who made 1 free throw to cement the win.
How’d we do it?
Refused to lose, as Coach Gee said. The team refused to be discouraged despite the seemingly insurmountable 10-point lead of FEU. They persevered, kept trying, and finally broke through.
Defense did it. FEU was held down to 27/40 shooting from the field, and for one of the top fastbreaking teams, scoring only 10 fastbreak points meant their easy points source dried up. Romeo was held to only 13 points, Garcia only 8. Mark Bringas made 12 points in his farewell game, but apart from his efforts, the FEU inside scoring was limited. We pressured normally unflappable FEU into 12 turnovers, which we turned into 13 points. And we defended well without fouling too much, giving the Tams only 13 free throw attempts. Btw, if we were previously regarded as a poor free throw shooting team, FEU made only 5/13 in this do-or-die game. They died.
Aggressiveness. Good old fashioned game-long aggressiveness, which prevented FEU from getting any significant runs. Challenging almost all shots, going for the loose balls, ignoring the bumps and hard fouls dished out by the rugged Tamaraws. And giving it all back. In spades, or Arrows, if you will.
Controlled the boards. We clobbered FEU on the boards 50-30, most particularly in the second half, where dominated, 33-14, with a 16-7 edge on offensive rebounding. This, after a narrow 17-16 edge in the first half. Talk about a complete turnaround.
Norbert regained his BEARings. After getting some flak in the middle part of the tournament, the Bear finally showed why he deserves his nickname. Norbert was awesome in the final 10 minutes, hitting 11 points on aggressive plays in the paint, pulling down 8 boards, 6 of which were offensive. If not for his strong individual efforts, we might not have escaped with the win.
Strong play from our key players. Jeron – a consistent scoring threat throughout the game. Almond, hitting an early trey to establish our outside shooting, and a late three from the parking lot, plus that last free throw. Thomas, gutsy play throughout the game, and that crucial and-1 on the break to give us our biggest lead at 67-60. AVO, with his awesome dunk and strong defense that neutralized the FEU bigs. Jovet with his inside plays, Yutien and Joshua contributing their effort and hustle. LA, obviously hobbled by his recurring ankle injury but still giving it his all, Oda and Jed contributing the muscle behind our stonewall defense.
Anything to fix?
At this point, nada. They’ve learned from mistakes, will continue to make some, but the fighting spirit was never quenched. They’ve gotten this far on guts, unrelenting desire, and a total refusal to lose. If they don’t have what it takes by now, they won’t get it in the last few games of the season.
Another win-or-go-home game against our greatest rivals, defending champ Ateneo. A solid, well coached, smooth playing team with threats from all parts of the court, both on offense and defense. A team with length, athleticism, smarts, and experience. On paper, they have a solid, definitive advantage. We’re the underdogs, or if you put it in a more descriptive term, under-Archers.
But we’ve gotten this far, and few would have expected us to do it this way, at the expense of heavily favored FEU. It’s been a surprising season so far. Who knows, the Archers may surprise us even more. There are 4 games to go to reach the summit. One game at a time.
JUST WIN! MUST WIN! REFUSE TO LOSE!