FAR Eastern University built a big first-quarter lead that proved enough to overcome a furious University of Santo Tomas fightback, 71-68, to claim the last semifinal berth of the Philippine Collegiate Champions League (PCCL) Tuesday at the Ynares Sports Arena in Pasig City.
After opening a 15-3 edge in the opening period, the Tamaraws stretched their lead to as much as 21 points, a cushion big enough to hold off the Tigers’ fourth-quarter rally to claim the Luzon-Metro Manila slot in the Final Four.
The semifinals kick off on Monday at the Blue Eagle gym.
The Tamaraws join UAAP and NCAA champions De La Salle and San Beda, along with Southern Islands champion Southwestern University in the Final Four.
The absence of Terrence Romeo and RR Garcia, was obviously felt by the Tamaraws when the Tigers clawed their way back to grab the lead, 67-65, behind a 29-8 run.
But FEU made its free throws down the stretch behind Mark Belo and Carl Bryan Cruz to clinch the win.
“Na-expose talaga ‘yung weakness namin because we lost two guards,” FEU coach Nash Racela said. “Siguro hinahanap namin ‘yun. Tama lang ‘yun, kahit ako ‘yung coach (ng kabilang team), gagawin ko ‘yun.”
“It was about what they didn’t do,” said Racela, referring to UST’s 1-of-14 shooting from the field in the first period.
Belo topscored with 19 points, including two free throws following an offensive rebound that settled the final count in the last 4.6 seconds.
Kevin Ferrer missed the potential game-tying triple at the buzzer.
Earlier, Jan Sheriff hit a lay-up to give UST a 67-65 lead with 1:54 to play.
But Belo countered by scoring two free throws following an unsportsmanlike foul by Ferrer to tie the count for the last time, before Cruz hit the go-ahead basket for the Tamaraws.
Karim Abdul split his two free throws as UST threatened for the last time, 69-68.
Racela won’t be with the Tamaraws during the Final Four, being one of the deputies of coach Jong Uichico with Sinag Pilipinas team in the 2013 Southeast Asian Games.
“Nasa Myanmar na ako. Nagawa ko na ‘yung part ko,” Racela said.
FEU (71) - Belo 19, Tolomia 9, Cruz 9, Inigo 8, Hargrove 8, Pogoy 6, Mendoza 5, Aguilon 3, Dennison 2, Sentcheu 2, Luz 0, Lee Yu 0, Delfinado 0, Jose 0.
UST (68) - Abdul 20, Ferrer 15, Pe 9, Bautista 9, Daquioag 7, Lo 4, Sheriff 2, Faundo 2.
Quarterscores: 15-3; 35-24; 57-38; 71-68.