LA Salle clawed back from a nine-point fourth-quarter deficit against University of Santo Tomas, 77-72, to keep its Final Four hopes alive in the UAAP Season 85 men's basketball tournament on Wednesday at Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Evan Nelle kept the Green Archers' heads above water with his 25 points, including the game-sealing free throws in the last 19.8 ticks that extended the lead to seven, 77-70, and kept the team in contention for a playoff for the No. 4 seed.
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Now, La Salle now find itself in a weird situation of rooting for a win by rival Ateneo over Adamson in the final game of the eliminations to force a tie with the Falcons at 7-7 (win-loss) and forge a playoff for the final seat in the semifinals.
The Green Archers pulled themselves back from a 69-60 deficit in the final 8:26 and frustrated the Growling Tigers, holding them to just one field goal from that point on as they finished the game on a 17-3 run.
Raven Cortez also did his part with 13 points and four boards in the absence of Michael Phillips and Kevin Quiambao.
"I'm really proud of the boys. We've been missing guys, but they've been playing solid basketball in spite and despite of things na nangyayari sa team namin. Just gotta keep fighting and hopefully good things will happen to us," said coach Derick Pumaren.
Mark Nonoy chipped in 10 points, six assists, and four boards; Ben Phillips got eight points, six rebounds, and four dimes, and JC Macalalag got six points and six boards, including the baseline jumper that broke the 69-all deadlock with 1:50 left.
"It's been a rough season for us," admitted Pumaren. "I don't think we played with a complete roster in all our games. I told the guys that sometimes I question bakit ganoon, di ba, why? Maybe God has other plans for us, maybe there's always a reason for everything."
"But we just have to keep playing, just gotta do our part. If God has plans for us, He's the one who knows at the end kung ano mangyayari. The boys hung tough out there, just a total team effort.
"As I was telling the boys, we gotta win first before we talk about the second game. The most important thing is we have to take care of business, and then we worry about the second game. If we don't take care of things, then bale-wala din 'yung second game. That was my message to the guys since yesterday."
It's a disappointing end to UST's campaign which once again fumbled a golden chance for a second win and instead suffered its 13th straight defeat to end its campaign at the bottom of the standings.
Royce Mantua shot 5-of-7 from distance for his 17 points and five rebounds, but his three-pointer early in the fourth quarter proved to be the Espana side's last of the game.
Nic Cabanero added 16 points, five boards, and four assists, Richi Calimag got 10 points, seven rebounds, and two dimes, and Adama Faye had nine points, 12 boards, and five blocks.
LA SALLE 77 - Nelle 25, Cortez 13, Nonoy 10, B. Phillips 8, Macalalag 6, Austria 5, Estacio 3, Abadam 2, Buensalida 2, Manuel 2, Nwankwo 1, Winston 0.
UST 72 - Mantua 17, Cabanero 16, Calimag 10, Faye 9, Pangilinan 5, Manalang 4, Laure 4, Manaytay 4, Lazarte 3, Duremdes 0, Garing 0, Escobido 0.
Quarters: 21-27, 37-42, 55-59, 77-72.