De La Salle University returned to the finals after three years by posting a hard-earned 69-64 win over Adamson University on Wednesday in the semifinals of the University Athletic Association of the Philippines Season 79 men’s basketball tournament at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.
The Green Archers, armed with a twice-to-beat advantage, gained the upper hand in the last minute of the fourth quarter.
The Green Archers banked on the tenacity of skipper Jeron Teng that delivered 11 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter but committed seven errors. The 6’7 Ben Mbala notched 21 points, 16 rebounds and four blocks to lead La Salle.
“We didn’t want to prolong the series and we really wanted this win badly,” said Teng, who shot 10-of-18 in the field. “In this game, everything is getting my way. Adamson played very well today.”
Despite the victory, La Salle’s coach Aldin Ayo was frustrated with the way his wards played.
“We have a lot of things to do. Adamson played really well. We didn’t box out and our opponent took us slowly. I have to tell my players to wake up; we can’t play like this in the finals. We suffered a lot of turnovers that’s why I’m so upset,” Ayo told reporters during the postgame interview.
“We are hoping to resolve our problem before December 3. We will go back to practice,” added Ayo, referring to the Best-of-Three championship round. “Adamson has improved very well and they deserved to be in the Final Four.”
La Salle will face the winner of the match between twice-to-beat holder Ateneo De Manila University and Far Eastern University (FEU) on Saturday at the same venue.
La Salle beat University of Santo Tomas in the finals in 2013.
Teng’s seven points resulted in a 9-2 run to narrow the gap, 20-22, at the end of first period. The Falcons reclaimed the lead in the second quarter, 28-25, before being overwhelmed by another big La Salle run.
Mbala scored a two-handed dunk in transition to give his side the lead, 35-28, late in the first half. Adamson at halftime was trailing, 37-33. The Falcons fought hard in the second half, forcing the Green Archers to 15 turnovers for 14 points.
Adamson recovered in the third quarter with a slim lead, 51-50, behind the effort of Robbie Manalang and Jonathan Espeleta. Rookie Aljun Melecio scored two free throws and a basket from Teng resulted in a 64-58 lead for La Salle.
Adamson coach Franz Pumaren was called for a technical foul for contesting a call, providing La Salle another free throw, 65-60, with under four minutes to go.
Sean Manganti made four straight free throws closing the gap, 65-64, before the last two-minute.
Teng scored a crucial shot, 67-64, heading into the last minute. With Adamson unable to retaliate, he sealed the win with two more free throws in the dying seconds of the game.
Sean Manganti led Adamson with 13 points, while Robbie Manalang and Papi Sarr had 12 and 11 points, respectively.