While it wasn’t the prettiest of wins, the DLSU Green Archers did just enough to defeat the ADMU Blue Eagles, 67-65, in game one of the finals earlier today at the Mall of Asia Arena. In a breathtaking game, it was a Jeron Teng layup in the dying moments of the fourth quarter that proved to be the difference between victory and defeat for La Salle.
Leading by as much as 15 points early, the Green Archers had to survive an aggressive second half come back by the Blue Eagles to come out of MOA Arena with the victory. Ben Mbala led the Green Archers with 20 points and 15 rebounds, while rookie Aljun Melecio added 12 points in the win. Teng did struggle from the field, shooting only five of 13, but his ten points all proved to be timely baskets for DLSU.
Aaron Black scored 12 points and grabbed eight rebounds to pace ADMU. No other Blue Eagle scored in double digits, while center Isaac Go was limited to only two rebounds.
Back-and-forth first half
Unquestionably, defense was La Salle’s biggest priority entering the game. For at least the first ten minutes of play, DLSU’s mayhem defense just completely stifled the ADMU offensive attack. After Vince Tolentino scored the Blue Eagles’ first basket at the 7:32 mark, the Green Archers went on an 11-0 run that ballooned their lead to 15. ADMU did not score a basket again until the 2:05 mark of the period, when a Chibueze Ikeh dunk ignited the Blue-and-White crowd for at least a moment. Following an Abu Tratter jumpshot, Ravena hit two free throws to bring the score to 19-6, in favor of DLSU, after a quarter of play.
Right as the second quarter began, a Black three-pointer immediately awakened a dormant ADMU offense. Aside from switching up its defense to a 2-3 zone, a much more aggressive mentality for the Blue Eagles allowed them to go on a run of their own. Having already outscored La Salle, 17-6, at the midway point of the period, it looked as if ADMU was going to take its first lead when they cut the DLSU lead to just four. The Green Archers, however, were able to respond with a run of their own. Highlighted by a steal and layup by Torres, a 10-4 run to end the period restored the Green-and-White lead to ten, 36-26, as the two teams entered the locker rooms. While it was ADMU that forced its counterparts into more turnovers, the Blue Eagles just could not make the most of their attempts. Their 28 percent field goal shooting in the first half was no match for DLSU’s 56 percent.
Momentum seemed to be on ADMU’s side at the start of the second half. As the Green Archers tried to control the game, the Blue Eagles caused frustration for their opponents by matching their intensity and even overpowering them defensively. La Salle’s shooting drastically fell to 39 percent. The Blue Eagles took advantage of this, outscoring the Green Archers by 10 points, 26-16. DLSU’s frustrations led to its players committing fouls in succession, recording 16 of their total 29 fouls in the second half. The Green Archers managed to keep it at a deadlock at the end of the third quarter, 52-52, thanks to their reliable free throw shooting.
Melecio opened the final quarter with a long three pointer, giving La Salle the lead, 55-52. Finishing with 12 points in his debut in the UAAP Men’s Basketball Finals, Melecio kept the Green Archer lead safe with two crucial three-pointers. However, the Blue Eagles, refusing to surrender, fought back behind short scoring runs by Mike Nieto and Ikeh. Teng proved to be composed in one of his final games, draining a basket with 15.1 seconds remaining and denying Aaron Black on the other end. “I just had to step up. Kailangan ko lang bumawi sa defense.” Kib Montalbo eventually sealed La Salle’s victory with a free throw, 67-65.
Game two of the best-of-three series will be held on Wednesday, December 7, at the Smart Araneta Coliseum, at 3:30 pm
DLSU 67- Mbala 20, Melecio 12, Teng 10, Sargent 7, Torres 5, Montalbo 4, P. Rivero 3, Tratter 3, R. Rivero 2, Caracut 1, Baltazar 0, Perkins 0.
ADMU 65- Black 12, Wong 9, Ravena 8, Ikeh 8, Mi. Nieto 8, Go 6, Verano 5, Ma. Nieto 5, Tolentino 2, Asistio 2, Porter 0, Mendoza 0. Quarter scores: 19-6, 36-26, 52-52, 67-65.