DE LA SALLE eluded the upset ax Adamson University wielded and scored a 69-64 victory to return to the finals of Season 79 University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) men’s basketball action on Wednesday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
The Green Archers had to weather the Soaring Falcons’ numerous game-tying three-point attempts in the closing minutes with team skipper Jeron Teng sealing their Final Four win with two free throws that send them to the best-of-three championship series.
Teng led De La Salle with 25 points, including the team’s last seven, to tow the Taft-based team to the finals for the first time since Season 76.
“I’m hesitant to congratulate them. It was a horrible game,” said Green Archers Head Coach Aldin Ayo, who also drew 21 points, 16 rebounds and four blocks from Cameroonian center Ben Mbala.
“Adamson University played an excellent defense, taking care of small details, pressuring our ball handlers and we had a hard time crossing the ball past the midcourt line,” he added.
The Falcons, the gate-crashers of the Final Four round, engaged De La Salle in a close battle and even led, 51-50, entering the fourth quarter.
Papi Sarr tied the game for the last time with two free throws, 58-all, before Teng and Mbala took charge to give the Green Archers a 65-60 spread with 3:40 remaining.
But Adamson University, ranked fourth after the elimination round, came back on Rob Manalang’s four free throws, 64-65, but Teng hit a crucial jumper to give De La Salle a 67-64 separation with 2:23 remaining.
Then came Adamson University’s misfortunes from the rainbow line. Jonathan Espeleta, Manalang, Jerrick Ahanmisi and Dawn Ochea missed one after the other to spell the Falcons’ doom.
The Green Archers committed another turnover, an eight-second violation for the team’s 26th miscue in the game, but Ahanmisi’s triple fell short and Teng cemented De La Salle’s place in the championship with two free throws.
“We really wanted this game badly. We don’t want to prolong it anymore,” said Teng, who had a miserable first half with seven turnovers.
De La Salle had only three assists in the game, forcing Ayo to criticize his squad that went 13-1 in the elimination phase.
“It’s very unfortunate that it [three assists] in the Final Four. We are not executing our game plan. I’m really very disappointed with the way we played in the first half,” said Ayo, who awaits the winner of the Ateneo-Far Eastern University Final Four match on Saturday also at the Mall of Asia Arena.
The Blue Eagles hold a twice-to-beat edge against the defending champion Tamaraws.
Sean Manganti paced the Falcons with 13 points while Manalang and Sarr added 12 and 11 points, respectively. Ahanmisi had nine points but struggled big time from the field, shooting just three-of-13.
Still, the Falcons were able to push the Green Archers to their limits and were a three-point shot away of sending the game to overtime.
“They deserved to be in the Final Four,” said Ayo of Franz Pumaren’s wards. “They have the talent and the system.”