FAR Eastern University reasserted its mastery of National University, scoring a 75-70 victory to draw first blood in the UAAP men’s basketball Finals on Saturday in front of a packed crowd at the Mall of Asia Arena.
The Tamaraws carried their elimination-round success against the Bulldogs into the biggest stage of the tournament, overhauling an early double-digit deficit before proving steady in the endgame.
Mike Tolomia spearheaded the attack, but it was Roger Pogoy who shone brightest for the Tamaraws, who moved on the verge of capturing their first title in almost a decade or since 2005.
Game Two of the best-of-three series is on Wednesday at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
Alfred Aroga and Gelo Alolino delivered as usual, but Troy Rosario was the missing link for the Bulldogs in the second half, where he suffered cramps and wound up scoring a measly point after going for 11 markers in the first half.
“We just went back to our strengths in the second half,” Tamaraws coach Nash Racela said. “In the previous games kasi, umalis kami sa strengths namin just for us to get a win and get to the Finals. But now, we had to go back.”
The Tamaraws, who had to adapt to La Salle’s deliberate playing style in the semifinals, returned to employing what they do best, thriving in a high-octane offense that the Bulldogs failed to stop in the second half.
Trailing by as many as 12 points in the first half, the Tamaraws turned the game around in the third quarter, where Pogoy scattered 10 of his 14 points as his team built their own double-digit cushion.
An Achie Iñigo layup with late in the quarter gave the Tamaraws their biggest lead at 60-47, completing a 25-point turnaround.
In all, the Tamaraws outscored the Bulldogs, 25-12, in that period.
The Bulldogs, however, threatened in the final frame, cutting the lead to three, 70-73, after Alolino split his charities with 38.5 seconds left, but Glenn Khobuntin missed a potential overtime-sending triple from the left wing in their final offensive play.
Tolomia finished with a team-high 15 points along with six rebounds and three assists, although the cat-quick playmaker committed seven turnovers in 35 minutes.
The Bulldogs’ defense was evident against Mac Belo, the Tamaraws’ leading scorer with over 16 points per game and Final Four hero, who was limited to just eight points on a paltry 3-of-13 shooting from the field.
FEU 75 – Tolomia 15, Pogoy 14, Iñigo 12, Jose 8, Belo 8, Hargrove 8, Dennison 5, Tamsi 3, Cruz 2, Escoto 0
NU 70 – Aroga 17, Alolino 14, Rosario 12, Khobuntin 9, Celda 7, Alejandro 3, Betayene 3, Javelona 3, Diputado 2, Neypes 0, Perez 0
Quarterscores: 14-15, 35-38, 60-50, 75-70