Despite entering the Final Four as the top seed, the DLSU Green Archers knew that making the championship round would not be a walk in the park. Today’s 69-64 victory over the AdU Soaring Falcons at the Mall of Asia Arena may have sent them to the finals, but their lapses during the game proved that they have a lot of things to work on to turn preseason championship expectations into reality.
Jeron Teng scored 11 crucial points in the fourth quarter, finishing with a game-high 25 points on 18 field goal attempts. Ben Mbala finished with 21 points and 16 rebounds, and provided four timely blocks in the win. Sean Manganti led AdU with 13 points and six rebounds, while Robbie Manalang and Papi Sarr scored 12 and 11 points, respectively.
“That was a horrible game for us,” a displeased DLSU head coach Aldo’s Ayo said after the game, lamenting the lack of ball movement and hustle on both ends of the floor.
Frenetic first half
DLSU raced to an early 7-0 lead behind an aggressive Teng, who scored five consecutive points two minutes into the game. AdU quickly responded with a 9-2 run to tie the game at 9-all, thanks to five points from Manalang. The Green Archers eventually got Sarr into early foul trouble, with Mbala making a slam dunk off the drop step and drawing the foul. However, La Salle could not further capitalize on their size advantage as Manganti and the Soaring Falcons were quicker to the rebounds and loose balls. As a result, DLSU held a slim 22-20 lead at the end of the first quarter.
With both Mbala and Sarr on the bench for the early minutes of the second quarter, it was a struggle for points on both sides. Until Kib Montalbo drained a three-pointer at the 3:17 mark of the period, La Salle had been held without a field goal since the early moments of the second quarter. In turn, his shot sparked a 10-1 run by the Green Archers that was highlighted by a thunderous dunk by Mbala on the fast break. While DLSU led, 37-29, entering the final minute, careless passes by Teng in the quarter’s final seconds gave AdU an easy four points off turnovers. In a physical first half, it was those mistakes that were keeping the Soaring Falcons in the game. Though DLSU did lose the first half turnover battle, 15-7, the Green Archers entered the locker room leading, 37-33.
Seesaw second half
To begin the second half, it was La Salle that had its way, slicing through the Soaring Falcons’ full court pressure and breaking free for layups. In the middle of it all were Thomas Torres and Teng, who each scored four points during the run.
At the midway point of the third quarter, however, slight adjustments by AdU began to create havoc for the DLSU ball handlers. From these errors, four straight layups by various Soaring Falcons were good enough to give them their first lead of the second half, 47-45. Because both teams were in the penalty early, the final minutes of the third period were mostly spent on the free throw line. At the end of the quarter, it was AdU leading, 51-50, over the Green Archers.
Down by a point entering the final quarter, the Green Archers took the lead on a basket from Mbala, only to see Manalang knock down a three-pointer to take back the lead, 54-52, with 8:24 left in the game. With the game on the line, Teng proceeded to score nine points in the fourth quarter on tough layups against a solid AdU defense.
Late in the game, non-calls and physical play drew the ire of the players and coaches from both teams. AdU head coach Franz Pumaren was called for a technical foul for crossing his side of the court, resulting in a Teng free throw that gave DLSU a 65-60 lead over the Soaring Falcons with 3:40 left in the fourth quarter. Manganti would bring AdU to within one, 65-64, with 2:58 left in the game. Teng would quickly respond with a basket that gave DLSU a 67-64 lead. The Green Archers would continue to hold a slim lead despite AdU’s multiple second chance possessions off their offensive rebounds. Free throws from Teng sealed the game and sent DLSU to the finals.
“We just really wanted this game badly. We didn’t want to prolong it and we wanted a spot in the finals,” Teng said after the game.
The Green-and-White yet again asserted its dominance in the paint as it out rebounded the Falcons, 45-34. AdU, though, was excellent in forcing La Salle mistakes, as evidenced by the 26 turnovers DLSU committed. Good Soaring Falcon defense also held the Green Archers to just three assists. For a team that averages almost 15 assists a game, La Salle was simply unable to move the ball around and find its rhythm.
In the end, the inexperience of a young AdU team hindered its chance of extending its season. An unsportsmanlike foul by Manalang, as well as the technical foul called on Pumaren, ended up giving the Green Archers three crucial points from the free throw line.
After the game, Ayo was quick to compliment AdU, saying, “They just played excellent defense. They pressured our ball handlers.”
He was quick to emphasize, though, that DLSU still has much to improve if it hopes to attain its ultimate goal. The Green Archers have now clinched a spot in the UAAP Finals, and will await the winner of the matchup between the ADMU Blue Eagles and the FEU Tamaraws. As of press time, Game 1 is set to be played on Saturday, December 3, at the Mall of Asia Arena.
DLSU 69- Teng 25, Mbala 21, Torres 6, Melecio 6, Tratter 4, Montalbo 3, P. Rivero 2, R. Rivero 2, Caracut 0, Perkins 0, Paraiso 0.
AdU 64- Manganti 13, Manalang 12, Sarr 11, Ahanmisi 9, Espeleta 9, Ochea 5, Tungcab 3, Bernardo 2, Mustre 0, Paranada 0, Camacho 0, Barrera 0, Chua 0, Ng 0. Quarter scores: 22-20, 37-33, 50-51, 69-64