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Heartbreaker: Valiant Archers yield to Tamaraws in Final Four rubber match

The same sequence was repeated a couple of times on the giant screen that hung imposingly above the playing court. It was also replayed several times on television, a couple of times to verify if the shot counted, another couple of times featuring game sponsors. In the following days, it’s going to be seen on thousands of laptop, computers, tablets, and smartphones, making the rounds on social media.

It features the same cast, playing the same roles, in the same setting, in an endless loop.

Mike Tolomia, guarded by Julian Sargent. Mac Belo waiting on the corner. The clock reading eight, reading seven, reading six, reading five. Tolomia moving towards the basket, trying to elude Sargent. Jason Perkins helping Sargent. Tolomia jumping, then passing at the last moment to an open Belo. Perkins running and putting a hand up in his face. The shot tracing a long, invisible arc before splashing through the hoop, just as the basket’s edges turn an angry red to signal the end of the game.

Belo being mobbed by his teammates, as they jumped up and down in a circle. Perkins sitting dejectedly on the floor, at the exact spot where Belo made the shot. Almond Vosotros crumpled near the middle of the court, having played his last game as an Archer.

The prevailing mood over the Lasallian faithful wasn’t anger, wasn’t disappointment. It was shock. It was disbelief. The dream is over, the dynasty halted before it even got off the ground. The Green Archers’ reign atop the UAAP has ended, at least for now.

It was a thrilling game that featured nine deadlocks and 10 lead changes up until that point. That 11th lead change would prove to be the last, and the most painful.

Despite a valiant fightback that saw them wresting the lead from their rivals early in the fourth and carrying it for most of the quarter, the Archers yielded to the FEU Tamaraws, 64-67, on a game-winning three-pointer by Belo that found its mark just as the buzzer sounded earlier tonight at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.

The loss prematurely ends the season for the Archers, who won titles in the UAAP and PCCL last year as well as this summer’s Fil-Oil Flying V Preseason Cup and were tagged as favorites entering this season. The Tamaraws, meanwhile, secured their first Finals berth since 2011. They will be facing the NU Bulldogs, who earlier eliminated Ateneo, in the Finals, which will start this Saturday, October 4.

A three-pointer by Belo, who finished with 23 points and eight boards, gave the Tamaraws a 64-61 lead with only 1:05 remaining in the game. La Salle, however, was not yet done, as Perkins made one of two from the line to cut the lead to two. After an empty FEU possession, the Archers found themselves on a five-on-four fastbreak and Jeron Teng found Norbert Torres for an easy basket that tied the count at 64 and set up the game’s thrilling, albeit heartbreaking finish.

With the Tams leading by four entering the fourth, Teng made his presence felt early in the payoff period, scoring on a lay-up, finding rookie Prince Rivero for a bucket, and nailing a jumper that gave La Salle its first lead since early in the contest, 53-51.

Belo and Tolomia, however, would answer with free throws and a lay-up, respectively, to give FEU the lead. Arnold Van Opstal scored inside for La Salle before Julian Sargent nailed the second of his two three-pointers to give the Archers a 59-55 lead.  But this was when Belo decided to put his team on his shoulders, scoring four points for the Tamaraws to knot the count at 59 with only 3:02 left.

Norbert Torres missed a couple of free throws but Perkins scored on a basket to give La Salle its last lead, 61-59, with a minute and 54 left. Achie Iñigo, however, scored on a floater to forge the game’s second-to-last deadlock.

It was Perkins and Rivero who bannered the Archers in the third period, combining for seven of La Salle’s ten points in the quarter. Belo and Anthony Hargrove, however, combined to score seven of FEU’s nine in the period, as they preserved a slim 51-47 lead heading into the fourth.

Entering the second period with a seven-point deficit, La Salle strung together a 13-2 run to lead by as much as 30-26 with 7:04 left in the second, after a triple by Sargent. FEU, however, countered with a 10-2 blitz of their own, seven of which came from Tolomia, to help them restore a four-point lead. Perkins and Van Opstal scored again for La Salle as they tied the game again at 36, but a Belo triple and an and-one basket by Mon Jose allowed the Tamaraws to take a 42-37 lead at the turn.

Teng was assertive early in the game for the Archers, pouring nine of his 13 in the first ten minutes, but eight different players scored in the first for FEU as they took a 24-17 lead after one.

Teng led the Archers with 13 points, four rebounds, and six assists, while Perkins finished with a double-double of 12 points and 12 boards, while also adding two assists. Arnold Van Opsal also finished in double-figures, scoring 11 markers and grabbing five rebounds. Aside from Vosotros, Norbert Torres and Yutien Andrada likewise played their last games donning the Green-and-White.

Backstopping Belo is Tolomia, who finished with 14 points, six assists, and a rebound, while Roger Pogoy finished with eight points and a team-high 11 boards.

Overall, the Archers outrebounded the Tamaraws, 44-42, including a 17-13 edge on the offensive glass. Both teams also shot 40% from the floor, shooting well from the two-point area but struggling from the free-throw line, with FEU making only 10 of 20 attempts from the line and La Salle canning only nine of their 23 charities. FEU also had more assists, 17-15, and capitalized on the Archers’ 15 turnovers by scoring 16 turnover points, compared to ten by La Salle.

FEU- 67- Belo-23, Tolomia-14, Pogoy-8, Iñigo-5, Jose-3, Cruz-3, Tamsi-3, Escoto, Ru.-2, Ugsang-0, Escoto, Ri.-0, Dennison-0, Lee Yu-0

La Salle- 64- Teng-13, Perkins-12, Van Opstal-11, Sargent-8, Torres, N.-7, Rivero-7, Vosotros-6, Montalbo-0, Torres, T.-0, Bolick-0

Quarterscores: 24-17, 42-37, 51-47, 67-64