After dealing with a disappointing loss at the hands of the UE Red Warriors, the DLSU Green Archers kept their Final Four hopes alive after a nail-biting victory against the UST Growling Tigers, 77-72, earlier today, November 30, at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
In their thrilling win, Evan Nelle put the Green and White on his back, pouring in 25 points while shooting 50 percent from the field to go along with four rebounds, four assists, one steal, and a block. Rookie Raven Cortez also contributed on the offensive end with 13 points and four rebounds. Meanwhile, Mark Nonoy led the team in assists, dishing out six of them while yielding 10 points himself. Bright Nwankwo also contributed to La Salle’s gutsy win by grabbing eight boards.
Royce Mantua had the hot hand for UST with 17 points to accompany five rebounds and an assist. Meeting expectations, UST superstar Nic Cabanero filled the scoreboard with 16 markers, five rebounds, and four assists. Subsequently, Richi Calimag was three rebounds shy of a double-double after contributing 10 points and seven rebounds for the Growling Tigers.
A glimpse of hope
It was a close race to start the opening quarter as the two teams traded shot for shot. Miguel Pangilinan’s quick plays facilitated UST’s offense, scoring nine points in the first five minutes of the period. The Green Archers also suffered from the absence of Mike Phillips, as the Growling Tigers controlled the paint on both sides of the floor. UST slowly broke away from DLSU with a 7-2 run led by Cabanero and Mantua with 2:25 remaining on the clock. Eventually, it was Jcee Macalalag who managed to stop the bleeding after a basket exiting a timeout. Nelle then hit a three at the 1:14 mark to cut the Tigers’ lead by one, 22-21. Echo Laure and Mantua made the last two baskets of the quarter, with the latter hitting a three at the buzzer to end the first period with UST leading 27-21.
Failing to hold the momentum of the game, a low-scoring second quarter ensued in favor of DLSU. Earl Abadam opened the scoring in the second quarter after sinking two bonus shots. Joaqui Manuel, Raven Cortez, and CJ Austria orchestrated an early 7-2 run to cut the Growling Tigers’ lead to two, 32-30. UST’s resilience and intensity gave the team from Taft a hard time, answering with a 6-0 run of their own to stretch their lead to eight, 38-30. Veteran Nelle tallied four of the last six points of the Green Archers, capping off his solo run with a fast break layup that came off a steal of his own with 10 seconds left in the quarter. Nelle was doing it all for the Green and White, tallying 11 points, two rebounds, two assists, one steal, and one block at the end of the first half.
Feeling the pressure
Matching the high-energy UST attack, the Green and White kept fighting with Nelle at the helm. Feeding the hot hand, he scored back-to-back buckets to start the third quarter with a trey and a quick layup off a Nonoy dish. Tied at 42-all, the Growling Tigers and Green Archers would duke it out in a back-and-forth shootout which saw three-pointers swish the net for both teams. At the 6:44 mark, the Thomasians held a 50-45 advantage, only to be answered by Ben Phillips who scored four straight points for La Salle to cut UST’s lead to one, 50-49. The Growling Tigers continued to feed Cabañero from beyond the arc to put the team from España ahead, 56-51. At the end of the third quarter, DLSU remained in pursuit, 59-55, after three possessions that featured Cortez scoring inside and protecting the paint.
In a nail-biting final frame of action, UST led early behind Mantua and Cabaneros’ continuous scoring. Cortez would keep the Green and White in the game through his aggressive play that got him to the free throw line and netted the team five points, 64-60. At the seven-minute mark, La Salle would struggle to get their shots to fall as they trailed by nine points following a Mantua three-ball, 69-60.
Down, but not out
With their season hanging by a fine thread, time was not in favor of Green Archers. Despite the pressure, it was Nonoy who drained a three-pointer to spark what would be a 14-0 run. The run saw huge baskets scored on the offensive end, paired with a suffocating defensive scheme on the other end. After a goaltending violation by UST’s Faye, Nelle scored a midrange and1 opportunity which was followed by a Nonoy free throw to tie the game, 69-all, with only 2:29 remaining in the contest.
For the lead, Macalalag hit a deep mid-range jumper in tandem with two made free throws from B. Phillips to pad the advantage, 73-69, marking less than two minutes remaining on the game clock. It was a standstill at 73-70 with only 20 seconds left in the game, where Nelle would ice the contest with free throws following UST’s unsuccessful attempts for a deadlock. La Salle eventually escaped with a chance at making the Final Four with a score of 77-70.
Scoring a season-high 25 markers, Nelle was all praises for his teammates, “So many people stepped up today, Raven (Cortez), Jcee (Macalalag), [and] Mark (Nonoy).” As the team was down in numbers with the loss of key rotation players, Pumaren commends his squad’s resiliency saying, “We just have to keep playing [while doing] our part. The boys hung tough out there— it was a total team effort.”
This win keeps DLSU in the race for the last UAAP Season 85 Final Four slot against the AdU Soaring Falcons. La Salle will hope for their long-time rivals, the Ateneo Blue Eagles, to beat the Adamson Soaring Falcons in their last game of the season. An Ateneo win would force a deciding game between the Green Archers and the Soaring Falcons for the last berth in the Final Four as both teams would hold even 7-7 records.
DLSU 77 – Nelle 25, Cortez 13, Nonoy 10, B. Phillips 8, Macalalag 6, Austria 5, Estacio 3, Buensalida 2, Abadam 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, Escubido 0, Garing 0
Quarter Scores: 21-27, 37-42, 55-59, 77-72