National University needed a five-minute extension to stay alive and book itself a slot in the Final Four of the 75th UAAP men’s basketball tournament. With their season on the line, the Bulldogs overcame a six-point deficit, 73-79, with under three minutes remaining to shock Far Eastern University (FEU) in the final stretch, 84-81.
“This is what we want from the start (of the season). I told the boys that God has a plan for us and that He will use these setbacks for us to come back,” NU mentor Eric Altamirano told reporters at the Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City.
True enough, the Bulldogs never wavered as they made an 11-2 spurt, five of which coming from reigning MVP Bobby Ray Parks.
Cameroonian Emmanuel Mbe and Mark de Guzman also contributed in that blistering run as the latter tied the knot at 79 with 65 seconds left. Parks connected from the outside to put NU ahead, 82-79, before RR Garcia sank his freebies to keep it a one-point game. Parks was sent to the charity stripe in the next play to seal the deal, which actually took 11 years to reach.
The last NU squad that made it to the Final Four was led by Jeff Napa, who is now guiding the juniors team.
Armed with a higher quotient, NU will enter the semifinals as the no.3 seed while FEU and La Salle will fight for the last ticket on Wednesday, September 27, at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.
These teams hold an identical 9-5 slate as NU’s victory also assured University of Santo Tomas (10-4) with the twice-to-beat advantage at the start of the Final Four games next weekend. Defending champion Ateneo de Manila topped the elimination round with a 12-2 slate. Despite being relegated to a sudden death situation, Tamaraws mentor Bert Flores still afford to keep an upbeat mood when sought for comment by reporters.
“We just have to keep a positive mindset,” he said.
Things were actually turning to NU’s favor in the fourth quarter, leading as many as nine points, 68-59, with 7:36 left. But FEU slowly cut the deficit as Cris Tolomia sent the game into overtime at 73-all. Parks was a shade of double-double with 27 points and nine rebounds while Mbe had 25 points. Terrence Romeo led the Tamaraws’ losing effort with 25 markers and eight boards.