FAR Eastern University took control early and held off National University, 66-65, in Game One of the UAAP Season 79 Juniors basketball finals on Tuesday at The Arena in San Juan.
Rhayyan Amsali scored on an easy layup to push NU within a point with still 16.9 seconds to play, but that proved to be the last basket and FEU went on to take the series opener.
FEU used a 22-9 run to take control late in the first quarter, 24-18, but got careless in the endgame and allowed NU to get back in the fight.
A John Clemente basket trimmed the NU deficit to three, 63-66, with 58.9 seconds left.
"Nandoon na ang leadership at lakas ng loob niya, kailangan lang ng maturity sa end game," FEU coach Allan Albano said of Gonzales.
The Baby Tamaraws last won the UAAP title in 2012 with former FEU star Jerrie Pingoy.
"Bago kami sa championship series so medyo naninibago ang mga bata, natutuwa pa at nasa finals buti na lang naka-recover kami kaagad," said Albano.
NU is on its fifth straight finals appearance with three titles won.
Game Two of the best-of-three series is on Friday.
Clemente finished with 25 points, Winderlich Coyoca scored 11 and Amsali came up with 10 markers.
FEU 66 - Roman 12, Torres 10, Sapinit 9, Celzo 8, Abarrientos 8, Gonzales 7, Gabane 5, Jabel 2, Bieren 2, Baclay 2, Gloria 1, Mariano 0
NU 65 - Clemente 25, Coyoca 11, Amsali 10, Peñano 9, Sarip 5, Manalang 3, Malonzo 2, Tolentino 0, Peralta 0, Fortea 0, Callejo 0, Atienza 0
Quarterscores: 24-20; 43-34; 57-52; 66-65.