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Greenstincts: It only gets harder for the Green Archers

One does not come out unscathed in the first round of Season 79 men’s basketball competitions, and expect the rest of the league to roll over and lay out the proverbial red carpet and welcome mats toward the championship. The De La Salle Green Archers crushed their first seven matches with an average of 15.4 points per game; including a 91-75 drubbing of the Adamson Falcons last September 24.

Yesterday’s 86-79 win was too close for comfort; it wasn’t until Kib Montalbo’s three-point shot, with 46.7 to play, that the Green and White gallery was able breathe a sigh of relief. Contrary to the first time that DLSU faced its former coach and current AdU tactician Franz Pumaren, there were little to no nostalgia feelings; just a hard-fought win no. 8 and a step closer towards their title aspirations.

Whether it was the week-long break or simply facing an Adamson squad still licking their wounds, DLSU looked flat in the first 10 minutes of the match, trailed most of the time, and faced a 17-19 deficit after the first period. Eight Archers scored for La Salle but the Falcons’ hot shooting enabled them to keep in step with their first round tormentor.

Putting the pedal to the metal in the second period, the Green Archers unleashed a 16-2 run in the first 5:26, threatening to blow the game wide open at 33-21. Even after several highlight dunks from Ben Mbala and Abu Tratter, Adamson refused to wilt and ended the first half trailing La Salle 33-44.

Quick whistles from the referees halted the Archers’ momentum in the third period but could not prevent DLSU from erecting its biggest lead, 59-42, after rookie Ricci Rivero scored the last of his 11 third quarter points. Almost half (10) of La Salle’s 26 total fouls were called in that 10 minute span; enabling the Falcons to go 10/16 from the charity stripe and trimming DLSU’s lead to just 66-55.

After Jason Perkin’s lay-up off a steal gave La Salle a 69-57 lead, the Falcons put on a 14-4 run of their own; allowing our boys to score only a single field goal in next four minutes. With team captain and scoring dynamo Jeron Teng still recovering from his minor procedure, La Salle badly needed a go-to guy when AdU sliced the lead to just two points, 81-79, with 1:16 remaining.

Just when it seemed like AdU head coach Franz Pumaren and his team have figured out how to solve DLSU’s mayhem system, a fire-dousing three from Montalbo, one that La Salle head coach Aldin Ayo takes no coaching responsibility whatsoever, swished in to retain the Green Archers’ unblemished win-loss record.

Either Ayo was really honest or tried to fire back a psychological retaliation of his own, but he reveal in the post-game interview that for him, this wasn’t the hardest match for him and the Green Archers. Giving his players the freedom to just play basketball, be spontaneous in reading game situations, and just go with the flow of the game has so far proved beneficial not only to DLSU’s campaign but also to the players’ confidence.

Winning the battle of the boards, 51-41, somehow negated La Salle’s 25 turnovers and 26 called fouls. Ben scored 18 points and grabbed 10 rebounds but wasn’t his usual dominating self in making only 4 of 13 field goals. Rivero, despite playing with a painful wisdom tooth, and the gutsy Melecio combined for 25 points, four of the team’s total six rainbow connections, seven rebounds, and seven assists.

Despite looking like mere mortals in games like this, and close first round encounters with FEU, NU, and UE, the team needs to experience adversity and challenges rather than quick blowouts and sure wins. Ayo’s philosophy of coaching and control, or lack of it, is exciting and so far, effective to La Salle’s cause. His aggressive tactics may be unconventional to say the least, but the Archer’s 8-0 record is proof enough that they work.

DLSU continues its second round assignment by facing the 2-6 UP Fighting Maroons on Saturday, October 15 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

Animo La Salle!