FEU-NRMF squeaked past a souped-up Hobe Bihon-Cars Unlimited squad with a nail-biting 71-70 win to clinch the first seat in the finals of the fifth DeLeague Cup in Marikina City.
Ranged against ex-pros Sunday Salvacion, Bonbon Custodio, Roger Yap, Al Vergara and Erick Dela Cuesta of Hobe, the Tamaraws relied on experience, composure, and defense to come out on top despite failing to score in the final two minutes of the game.
The Nino Reyes-owned ballclub got going early, building a 16-point third quarter lead. But Hobe staged a comeback and took control entering the closing minutes of the fourth quarter, thanks to the deadly shooting of Salvacion.
“Nag-collapse na naman kami sa opensa eh. Nag-relax pero good thing our veterans were there to save the day for us,” said FEU-NRMF coach Cris Bautista.
Former Asean Basketball League MVP Leo Avenido played a hero’s role for the Tamaraws, drilling a crucial triple to wrest back the lead, 69-67, at the 2:50 mark.
When Salvacion’s trey pushed Hobe back within one, 70-71, with 1:36 left in the game, FEU-NRMF leaned on the defensive prowess of Avenido who stole the ball thrice in succeeding ball possessions of Hobe, to seal the win.
“Ayaw kong matalo, kasi pride namin ang nakasalalay, [kaya] talagang ginawa ko ang dapat gawin. Mainit ang shooting nila eh, lalo sina Sunday at Al Vergara,” said Avenido, who finished the game with 17 points, eight rebounds, and five steals.
“Sabi ko, pag naungusan kami ng Hobe, saying [ang] pinaghirapan namin para ma-maintain ang flawless campaign,” added the captain of an FEU-NRMF team that’s still undefeated after seven games.
Hobe team owner Mark Young can’t help but shake his head after another heartbreaking loss to FEU-NRMF, especially after his team squandered a four-point lead to bow to the Tamaraws, 60-67, in their elimination round showdown.
“Both teams are really tough and evenly matched, talagang close fight. Syempre, nasaktan kami. Masakit, kasi sayang eh. Puro close fight talo namin. Sayang talaga,” said Young.
With the win, FEU-NRMF now awaits their opponent in the finals, which will come from the knockout game between Hobe and another contender, Sta. Lucia Land.
View highlights of the match: