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Suerte clutch as UE scores first win at La Salle's expense

Rey Suerte drained the game-winning triple to lift University of the East over De La Salle University, 89-88, and to its first win in UAAP Season 82 on Saturday at the Mall of Asia Arena.

Suerte finished with 31 points and seven boards for the Red Warriors, who had to endure some nervous moments in the final seconds as their prized prospect and Green Archers guard Aljun Melecio engaged in a shootout in the clutch.

After two free throws by Encho Serrano gave La Salle an 85-83 lead with under 30 seconds left, UE leaned on Suerte -- who brushed off his defender with a crossover before calmly sinking a three -- to grab an 86-85 advantage with 15.4 seconds left. Melecio later countered with a tough triple of his own off a time out by La Salle, but that was immediately negated later on as Suerte clinched the game with 3.2 seconds left.

"One word: Suerte. Swerte lang," active consultant Lawrence Chongson said after the game.

"That's the adjustment that we made in practice. We simulated what the Houston Rockets did. Even if they had Chris Paul, the ball was always with James Harden," Chongson added. "It was a risk we took. Big-time players make the big-time shots."

Suerte also added three assists and knocked down five of his seven threes for UE. Neil Tolentino chipped in 19 points, with the bulk of it coming in the first half, while Jem Cruz contributed in 13 points and eight boards.

Those efforts nearly went to waste when the Red Warriors, who led by as many as 13 points in the game, watched La Salle chip away and mount a comeback. With UE ahead 81-74, Melecio kickstarted a 9-0 run that was capped by an and-1 play by Serrano to put the Archers on top, 83-81, with 1:07 left. UE's Chris Conner sank two free throws to tie the match, but Serrano later hit two more of his shots at the line to set the stage for those late-game baskets by Suerte and Melecio.

Melecio finished with 21 points, 11 coming in the fourth quarter, while Justine Baltazar tallied a 21-point, 17-rebound double-double for La Sale. Andrei Caracut also added 16 points, while Serrano ended up with 14 markers.

UE finally got on board to hike its record to 1-3, while La Salle fell to 1-2 in the standings.

THE SCORES

UE (89) - Suerte 31, Tolentino 19, Cruz 13, Pagsanjan 8, Apacible 6, Conner 4, Natividad 0, Abanto 0, Camacho 0, Diakhite 0, Sawat 0.

DLSU (88) - Baltazar 21, Melecio 21, Caracut 16, Serrano 14, Laput 9, Lojera 3, Bartlett 2, Manuel 2, Bates 0, Hill 0.

Quarters: 28-24, 48-37, 70-63, 89-88.

EXTRA DRIBBLES

- Jamie Malonzo didn't suit up for La Salle on Saturday due to a sprained ankle.

- UE center Alex Diakhite returned to the lineup after recovering from dengue and checked in with a minute left in the third quarter.

- Suerte's 31 point output is the first 30-point game of the season according to league statistician Pong Ducanes.