Adamson head coach Franz Pumaren couldn't hide his disappointment after the Falcons lost a winnable game against the UP Fighting Maroons on Sunday.
"Well let's put it this way. Probably if I'm the one playing up to now, I don't think we'll lose that game," said Pumaren, who played for La Salle in college before becoming a nine-time champion in the PBA. "I don't think we prepared the team the right way, we prepared our game plan down the hill. It just so happens that down the stretch, we made foolish decisions."
The Falcons were up by 12 points in the last seven minutes but failed to deliver the finishing blow against a deadly UP squad. As the Adamson players were seemingly lost in the moment, the Fighting Maroons seized it, capitalizing on costly errors while shifting the momentum to their side with timely baskets to secure an 81-77 comeback victory. It was deja vu for the Falcons because they were also on the receiving end of a huge UP comeback in the first round.
For Pumaren, a fearless competitor both as a former player and coach, the devastating loss was tough to swallow.
"The guy that was supposed to give the killer punch turned the ball over," Pumaren said. "I must say the bench guys did their job but I needed to rest them because they were tired."
The coach criticized his veteran backcourt duo of Val Chauca and Jerrick Ahanmisi, who were not able to provide the leadership and calming presence that Adamson needed.
"Well, you know I'll be a hypocrite if I didn't tell you I'm disappointed. Of course I am disappointed," said Pumaren.
Fourth-year guard Ahanmisi finished with 13 points but was virtually a non-factor as UP made its furious rally. Chauca, on the other hand, fired 17 points in the first half but fizzled in the last two quarters and scored just two more points after his hot start. The one-and-done star, who previously played for Enderun College, had five assists but also committed four turnovers. Down the stretch, Chauca had trouble running the Falcons' offense.
"[I] just turned the ball over a lot," said a dejected Chauca after the game. "As a veteran, Coach Franz expects a lot more sign of leadership. It's on me, I take full responsibility. I'm a veteran on the team and I can't make mistakes like that. I had the ball in my hand and made errant passes. [I need] to be more deliberate with my decisions."
Chauca has been tasked to lead an Adamson team filled with talent and promise this season. He was recruited not just to be a point guard who can score and dish out assists, but also serve as a mentor for the team's young stars-in-the-making.
"I was thinking more of killing the clock instead of playing basketball," he admitted. "When we start doing that and we're not used to that, you're gonna make bad decisions so I think just trying to stay aggressive whether it's the third or fourth quarter, just staying aggressive and making more deliberate decisions."
Pumaren expects a lot from his veterans but he also acknowledged that the tough losses are part of his team's learning process.
"It's mental toughness and of course experience. Sometimes you will get that experience in a hard way, it's gonna be a hurting experience," said Pumaren. "But for me, down the road, this kind of situation will make us a better team, better players, I guess if you look at the whole scenario, the mistakes we made are beyond our control."
The Falcons' loss gave them a 4-7 record, which made their Final Four chase even more difficult. The game versus UP slipped through their fingers but it also might serve as a turning point that will help them improve.
"I can be brutally frank, I can say what I saw, what people saw. For me at this stage, no need for me to sugarcoat," said Pumaren, who spoke to Chauca after the game. "I say what I see, it's up to you to accept it if you go back to your shell, it's gonna speak highly of yourself, you take this as a challenge. You prove to yourself that you're a better player and you can come back come Wednesday."
The Falcons are now in a must-win situation heading into the final stretch of the season. They are hoping to get back on track as they face the FEU Tamaraws on Wednesday.
"We need three in a row. I think it we win three in a row, it'll put us in a good position. At this point, we're just looking forward to FEU on Wednesday and that'll be big for us. All eyes on FEU," Chauca said.