The FEU Tamaraws claimed the last ticket to the Final Four after knocking out the De La Salle Green Archers, 71-70, in the UAAP Season 81 men's basketball action Wednesday at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
Arvin Tolentino knocked down the game-winning triple to cap off the 7-2 finishing kick that propelled the Tamaraws to their fourth straight victory.
FEU went 0-4 at the start of the second round before bouncing back just in time to advance to the semifinals and arrange a date with the top-seeded Ateneo Blue Eagles.
"I love how this team battled through adversity the whole year," said head coach Olsen Racela. "They never gave up, even during our four-game losing streak, they were the ones who gave me confidence. It's just fitting that we made the Final Four this way."
The Tamaraws headed into the final quarter with a slim three-point lead that Richard Escoto extended to six, 57-51, after an and-one play. La Salle responded with an 11-3 run to steal the momentum and the advantage. To make matters worse for FEU, big man Prince Orizu fouled out with still 4:30 remaining in the contest.
The two teams traded baskets before Aljun Melecio and Santi Santillan made it a four-point ballgame, 68-64, in favor of the Green Archers. Jasper Parker nailed a pair of freebies, but Melecio responded with an acrobatic layup to push La Salle to a 70-66 edge in the final minute.
Ken Tuffin hit a long jumper, then Joaqui Manuel missed a three-pointer on the other end to give FEU the golden opportunity to tie the score or regain the lead. Tolentino did not waste the chance, draining a wide-open trey from the top of the key, thanks to an assist from Parker.
The Green Archers had three seconds left to execute a well-designed play but Santillan missed his last shot under the basket.
Tolentino spearheaded the charge for the Tamaraws with 15 points and five boards, followed by Barkley Eboña's 12-point and 16-rebound performance off the bench. Tuffin went 3-for-5 from deep to finish with 11 points, while Richard Escoto delivered 10 points and eight boards.
La Salle closed out the year with three consecutive losses, failing to reach the playoffs for the first time since Season 78. Santillan was the lone double-digit scorer with 20 points. Melecio and Andrei Caracut contributed nine points apiece.
FEU 71 - Tolentino 15, Ebona 12, Tuffin 11, Escoto 10, Comboy 8, Parker 7, Inigo 5, Cani 2, Orizu 1, Stockton 0, Gonzales 0, Bienes 0
LA SALLE 70 - Santillan 20, Melecio 9, Caracut 9, Montalbo 7, Baltazar 6, Manuel 5, Samuel 4, Dyke 3, Go 3, Bates 2, Serrano 2
QUARTER SCORES: 22-21, 36-38, 54-51, 71-70
-- The Tamaraws clinched their fourth straight Final Four appearance, the league's longest active playoffs streak. -- FEU dominated the glass, 54-41, including 27 offensive boards after averaging only 13.6 prior to the game. Barkley Eboña topped with 10 offensive and 16 total rebounds.
FEU - Final Four Game 1 vs Ateneo Blue Eagles on November 25 (Sunday) at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum