Bright Akhuetie was the unequivocal hero for UP on Saturday, delivering the game-winning basket with 2.6 seconds left to give the Fighting Maroons a 73-71 victory over the Adamson Falcons in the UAAP Season 81 Final Four.
Prior to his clutch make, however, the 6-foot-7 reinforcement had as many points as turnovers. He finished with just six points on 2-for-5 shooting and four miscues. The only positive from his quiet stat line was his 14 rebounds.
After the game, Akhuetie revealed that he was actually not feeling well.
"I was really really cold. I was shivering. It was last night," said Akhuetie, who is on pace to be awarded the MVP.
Not to take anything on the defensive game plan by Adamson and the solid performance of his counterpart, Papi Sarri, who had 23 points and nine rebounds, Akhuetie was a step slow on every possession. Despite his condition, he tried to play on. He even tried his best to not cause distress within the team.
"I didn't want to tell them that will bring their spirits down and during [the game] they were like, 'Let's look for Bright,' I was like, 'Keep playing we're doing good,'" he said.
"They were asking me, "Are you okay?' I said 'Yeah, I'll keep going,'" he went on.
Akhuetie logged in nearly 30 minutes in the tightly-contested game. With both teams trading buckets in the final minute, UP's prized center needed to be on the floor.
"I don't want to be in the situation where I tell them that I can't do it and their spirits will go down." shared Akhuetie. "I won't be able to play so I was just there, doing my job on the rebounding, not forcing anything, not trying to score offensively because it was really hard for me."
"I was trying to catch my breath, dealing with the cold and it was just too much. So I can't tell them that I won't be able to play, it's gonna be bad. I just psyched myself, whatever it is, stay there and lead these guys."
Despite feeling under the weather, the Nigerian center willed himself to hit the basket in UP's final sequence. Fortunately, it was a play from coach Bo Perasol that the Fighting Maroons were already familiar with.
"The funny thing is we practiced this, Coach Bo was like, 'Let's do this if we need a two, the alley-oop, we look for Bright," he recalled. "I didn't make it. I missed it in practice, and we laughed about it. Thankfully we made it today."
Akhuetie wasn't feeling well in UP's most important game of the season, but as fate would have it, he was the one who delivered the winning basket.
With three full days before the winner-take-all game on Wednesday, Akhuetie hopes to recover as soon as possible.
"I should be better. All I have to do is get enough rest and I'll be good," he said.