DE La Salle opened a big lead early then held off one University of Santo Tomas rally after another to pull off a 77-70 victory on Saturday and send the UAAP Season 76 men's basketball finals to a deciding Game Three.
Jeron Teng held his own against older brother Jeric in a beguiling match-up while Norbert Torres, Arnold Van Opstal, and Jason Perkins proved too much to handle for a foul-troubled Karim Abdul in a game witnessed by a crowd of 23,037 fans at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Jeron scored 12 of his 19 points in the first quarter to jumpstart the Archers, who opened leads as big as 17 points and kept a safe distance between them and the US Tigers in the endgame on the way to levelling the best-of-three championship series at one game apiece.
That set the stage for a winner-take-all Game Three on Saturday at the Mall of Asia Arena, where the Archers will be looking to end a five-year title drought and the Tigers their first championship since 2006.
It will also be the fourth time over their last five finals showdowns since the nineties that the Archers and the Tigers will be playing in a rubber match.
“Everyone played well not just the bigs,” said De La Salle coach Juno Sauler.
Jeric Teng topscored with 28 points for the Tigers, who were looking to become the first fourth-seeded team to lift the trophy since the Final Four format was put in place in 1994 but simply had no answer for the Archers' three tall and beefy frontliners.
Torres had his best game of the series with seven of his 16 points coming in the third period aside from grabbing 10 rebounds. Van Opstal had 13 points and a game-high 14 rebounds while the wide-bodied Perkind added seven points and 10 rebounds.
The three helped the Green Archers take a huge 57-39 advantage in the battle off both boards including a 27-10 edge in offensive rebounds. The Taft-based cagers also had an 18-6 advantage in second chance points.
“I was just trying to be aggressive. That’s what coach wants,” said Torres.
Abdul, who had three fouls before the first half could end, added 13 points for the Tigers but noticeably struggling on the offensive end was Kevin Ferer, who only had six points and missed all three of his three-pointers after hitting 20 points in the Tigers' 73-72 win on Wednesday.
Unlike in Game One, the Green Archers were aggressive from the start as they built a 21-12 first quarter lead. The lead ballooned to a high of 36-19 before the Tigers started chipping away at the deficit behind the consistent inside-outside game of Teng.
The closest UST got was one point, 43-44, after a Tata Bautista three-pointer before the Archers regained the momentum for good with a 13-2 run capped by a Torres basket inside, 57-45.
La Salle (77) – Teng 19, N. Torres 16, Van Opstal 13, Vosotros 11, Revilla 9, Perkins 7, T. Torres 2.
UST (70) – Teng 28, Abdul 13, Mariano 9, Sheriff 6, Ferrer 6, Bautista 6, Lo 2, Pe 0, Daquioag 0.
Quarterscores: 21-12; 41-33; 64-53; 77-70.