The FEU Tamaraws finally put a stop to their four-game skid against the De La Salle Green Archers when they carved out a hard-fought 68-61 victory on Sunday.
Banking on a strong showing in the endgame, the Tamaraws claimed a win over the Green Archers for the first time in three years to begin their Season 81 quest on a bright note.
More than anything, FEU coach Olsen Racela, who's on his second year at the helm, lauded his players' execution on the defensive end.
"We pride ourselves on team defense. La Salle has several weapons but I think my players really came to defend today," beamed Racela.
The Tamaraws stayed close throughout the contest, which was very different from what happened last year when the Green Archers flexed their muscles from the get-go.
"I liked the score at halftime, 26-25, because that's to our advantage. It's not a scoring game unlike last year when we played La Salle," recalled Racela. "I like our improvement from last year and hopefully we can sustain this throughout the season."
Indeed, it was the Tamaraws' impressive stops that prevented La Salle from coming back in the final stretch. From trailing by one at the five-minute mark of the fourth, the FEU veterans conspired for a 13-5 run to seal the deal.
"I like how my players stuck to our game plan and kept their discipline," said Racela. "I knew our offense will come eventually and I think it happened in the second half. We made that run, which we struggled to find in the first half."
Arvin Tolentino, who topped with 13 points, struggled to hit his shots in the first half but he made up for it by spearheading the charge in the third frame and sparking the Tamaraws' closing rally.
"Coach said during halftime to keep taking the shots as long as [they're] open. It just so happened that I was open that time," he said about his crucial go-ahead triple in the last three minutes.
FEU also got a huge boost from Ken Tuffin, Axel Iñigo, Wendell Comboy, Alec Stockton, Hubert Cani, and Jasper Parker, who stepped up at different points of the match.
"I think it was a good contribution all around today. It showed on the stat sheet that we had some good assists there. Everyone took upon the challenge today and it was a very good result for us," said Tuffin.
After this maiden win, the Tamaraws will be bracing for a busy week with the UST Growling Tigers and the Ateneo Blue Eagles next on their schedule. Racela looks forward to the tough challenge as this will allow them to make an early assessment of the team.
"It's a killer week for us - UST on Wednesday and then Ateneo on Saturday," he said. "We just have to prepare for that stretch. After this week, we'll see what we're really made of."