Defending champion Far Eastern U’s woes got compounded anew on Saturday night when the Tamaraws ran out of steam in the crunch, dropped a 67-73 decision to the La Salle Green Archers and suffered yet another big blow for a Top 2 finish in the UAAP Season 78 men’s basketball tourney.
It was the third straight loss and fifth overall in 13 matches for FEU, yielding the second spot to Ateneo which sustained its winning form by turning back University of Santo Tomas 74-64 earlier in the day and improved to 9-5 overall.
Instead of getting frustrated after losing more ground for the remaining Final Four bonus, FEU coach Nash Racela opted to stick to the positives.
“Tatlo na? Tatlo na ‘yun? But I can’t be frustrated with the kind of game we played today,” Racela told sports scribes at the Mall of Asia Arena hallway, keeping himself upbeat after seeing the Tamaraws give the Green Archers all they could handle, only to collapse in the stretch.
Behind its efficient offensive attack and solid defensive stand, FEU took control majority of the way, enjoyed the game’s biggest lead in the third at eight points and even took a 65-60 cushion off a Wendell Comboy’s unmolested layup midway in the final frame.
However, the Tamaraws struggled to execute from there as the Green Archers took their defensive intensity a notch higher while top guns Ben Mbala, Jeron Teng and diminutive guard Aljun Melecio conspired in a telling 13-2 windup.
While they have lost their grip on what’s been initially deemed as a Top 2 finish, Racela still sounded upbeat of their chances in the playoffs.
“It was never in my mind getting twice-to-beat advantage. If it comes, it comes,” he stressed.
“By the looks of it, parang hindi na but it’s still fine. Ang importante is we’re in the Final Four and just basing how we played today, I know, though we’re at a twice-to-beat disadvantage, we know that we could compete and beat the other team.”
With another tough test ahead in the form of also-ran University of the East on Wednesday at the same venue, Racela is urging his FEU players to right the ship.
“We’ll try our best to win that game so at least we get some kind of momentum going to the playoffs,” he said. – By Jerome Lagunzad