It was a crazy, fast-paced ending, but the UP Fighting Maroons took the win nonetheless.
"The positive way of saying it is we won by learning. I'd rather have that than losing and learning," said a relieved coach Bo Perasol.
The Fighting Maroons came away with an 89-88 win over the NU Bulldogs on Sunday but the victory was an escape act toppled with a wave of relief as the final buzzer sounded. UP had control for most of the contest and fended off every run NU threw at them. Unfortunately, missed free throws and opportunities nearly caused them the game.
The Fighting Maroons were leading 89-83 with less than a minute remaining after Bright Akhuetie knocked down a pair of free throws. NU rookie Dave Ildefonso then buried a triple to make it a three-point game with 23 seconds left.
"I just have a bad feeling with how we ended up that quarter. It's a culmination of what happened in the past," Perasol said, citing previous instances when his team blew a lead late in a game.
Perasol's worst fears nearly came into reality in the last 20 seconds as his players failed to ice the contest. Jun Manzo missed his shots at the charity stripe, which then led to a quick layup by Shaun Ildefonso on the other end. With UP clinging on to a one-point lead, Javi Gomez De Liaño also shot blanks at the foul line, leaving the door open for NU.
In the dying seconds, JV Gallego raced down the court. He had a wide-open layup with time running down but opted to make a last second pass as the buzzer sounded. It was heartbreak for the Bulldogs and relief for the Fighting Maroons.
"I hope that we can quickly put this aside as we have a game on Wednesday," Perasol said. "We need to learn how to finish a game. If I have to review the game, I'd only be happy with fifty-percent of it."
The endgame masked great individual performances from both squads.
Akhuetie had his best game wearing a Maroons jersey with a monster outing of 21 points and 20 rebounds while Javi Gomez De Liaño scored a career-high 19. NU's Dave Ildefonso also had quite a game with 20 points, the most in his young career so far.
UP is now 3-3 in the standings while NU is at 1-5 after losing its last five games.
UP 89 - Akhuetie 21, Gomez de Liano Ju 20, Gomez de Liano Ja 19, Desiderio 14, Manzo 8, Dario 6, Prado 1, Jaboneta 0, Murrell 0, Gozum 0, Lim 0
NU 88 - Ildefonso D 20, Sinclair 13, Gallego 13, Ildefonso S 12, Gaye 11, Clemente 9, RIke 4, Diputado 3, Morido 2, Yu 1, Joson 0, Aquino 0, Malonzo 0, Tibayan 0, Galinato 0
QUARTER SCORES: 26-20, 47-40, 70-62, 89-88
UP missed four foul shots in the last 18 seconds of the game. Ironically, when the Bulldogs were vying for a comeback and intentionally fouled Bright Akhuetie, hoping that he would miss his shots, the big man delivered and went 2-for-2 in the last minute. Akhuetie was 7-for-10 overall from the line.
Joshua Sinclair was the second-leading scorer for the Bulldogs with 13 points. However, he produced all his points in the first half.
UP - October 10 (Wed) vs UST Growling Tigers at Mall of Asia Arena
NU - October 13 (Sat) vs UE Red Warriors at Mall of Asia Arena