The FEU Tamaraws delivered down the stretch to open their UAAP Season 81 campaign with a 68-61 victory over the De La Salle Green Archers Sunday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
"The last time I was here, the result was not good, it was our Final Four loss," said second-year head coach Olsen Racela. "It's a great feeling that we got our first win of the season."
The two teams figured in a tight back-and-forth battle in the first three and a half quarters before the Tamaraws found ways to create some separation in the final minutes.
Arvin Tolentino spearheaded the charge with 13 points, eight of which were scored in the third period. He also knocked down the go-ahead triple with 3:22 left in the contest that made it 58-56 in favor of FEU.
Jasper Parker extended the lead with a layup, then the Tamaraws executed well on defense to force La Salle to a turnover. Hubert Cani capitalized by hitting a fadeaway jumper in the next possession, giving the Tamaraws a 62-56 cushion.
Aljun Melecio trimmed down his team's deficit with a spin move, 62-58, then it was the Green Archers' turn to make an impressive stop. La Salle, however, failed to capitalize as Andrei Caracut lost the ball on his way to the hoop.
Axel Iñigo iced the game with four straight free throws. Melecio drained a three-pointer in the last few seconds but it was already too late for the Green Archers.
Ken Tuffin contributed 11 points and four boards in the win, while Iñigo added ten markers, six rebounds, and three assists. Alec Stockton also came up huge especially in the first half where he dropped seven of his nine points.
The last time that FEU won against La Salle was back in the elimination round of Season 78 when they secured a 71-68 triumph.
"La Salle is really a difficult opponent," admitted Racela. "Last year, they routed us. I like our improvement from last year, and hopefully, we can sustain this throughout the season."
For the Green Archers, this marks their first opening loss since they bowed down to the Tamaraws, 82-77, in Season 77.
Santi Santillan topped with 19 points, including nine in the first quarter alone, and ten rebounds. Melecio finished with 11 markers, while Caracut had nine points, six rebounds, and three assists.
FEU 68 - Tolentino 13, Tuffin 11, Inigo 10, Comboy 9, Stockton 9, Cani 7, Parker 5, Ebona 2, Escoto 2, Orizu 0
LA SALLE 61 - Santillan 19, Melecio 11, Caracut 9, Baltazar 8, Montalbo 5, Serrano 3, Bates 2, Samuel 2, Manuel 1, Dyke 1, Go 0, Corteza 0, Capacio 0
QUARTER SCORES: 11-14, 25-26, 48-48, 68-61