LA SALLE’S heartbreaks against Far Eastern University in elimination games continue.
Facing a possible final collegiate game, Arvin Tolentino drained in a huge three-pointer in the final 3.1 seconds as the Tamaraws escaped with a 71-70 victory over the Green Archers to claim their sixth straight Final Four appearance in the UAAP men’s basketball tournament yesterday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Jasper Parker made Tolentino’s game-winner possible with a key assist that gave FEU the slimmest of margins.
La Salle tried to turn things around in its final possession with a well-executed inbound play by Encho Serrano, but Santi Santillan, trying to elude Barkley Eboña and Richard Escoto, missed an undergoal stab as time expired.
The Tamaraws, who last failed to get past the eliminations in 2012, tied the Archers for the most number of the Final Four berths since the format was institutionalized in 1994 with 20.
But the reward for FEU was a third consecutive semifinals meeting with defending champion and twice-to-beat Ateneo at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday at the Big Dome. The Tamaraws and the Blue Eagles split their two meetings this season.
“Right now, ang nararamdaman ko lang is I’m so elated with this victory,” said FEU coach Olsen Racela.
“I have to give it to the boys, they never gave up. Not just in the last quarter, in the last minute, but throughout the season. It was an up and down season for us. We had that four-game losing streak but they never gave up.”
Once again, the Tamaraws had the Archers’ number in the games that mattered most.
In 2015, FEU ousted La Salle in the Final Four in the final day of elimination, while the year before that, the Tamaraws dethroned the Archers courtesy of Mac Belo’s buzzer-beating three-point shot in the Final Four decider - which was somehow replicated by Tolentino.
Setting aside a rocky final year highlighted by a two-game suspension midway in the eliminations, Tolentino finished with 15 points to lead FEU, which hurdled four consecutive do-or-die matches to stave off elimination.
“What can you say about that guy? I’m so happy for him,” said Racela of Tolentino.
Staring at a 66-70 deficit, Tuffin hit a long jumper from the corner to cut the Tamaraws’ deficit to 68-70 before Tolentino’s moment came into play.
It was a sorry loss for La Salle, who was holding a 70-66 advantage after Aljun Melecio scored a difficult lay-up with under a minute remaining.
The Archers ended the season with three consecutive losses and will miss the semifinals for the first time since 2015.
Thankfully for Racela, Eboña was there to fill in the huge void left by the Nigerian slotman in the endgame.
In the women’s division, soon-to-be named MVP Grace Irebu of Congo had a double-double effort of 29 points as University of Santo Tomas reasserted its mastery of La Salle, 79-67, to claim the remaining Final Four berth.
FEU (71) – Tolentino 15, Eboña 12, Tuffin 11, Escoto 10, Comboy 8, Parker 7, Iñigo 5, Cani 2, Orizu 1, Stockton 0, Gonzales 0, Bienes 0.
DLSU (70) – Santillan 20, Melecio 9, Caracut 9, Montalbo 7, Baltazar 6, Manuel 5, Samuel 4, Dyke 3, Go 3, Bates 2, Serrano 2.
Quarterscores: 22-21, 36-38, 54-51, 71-70