MANILA, Philippines—The entire De La Salle squad and its fans breathed a huge sigh of relief after the Green Archers escaped with the narrowest of victories over University of Santo Tomas on Wednesday.
La Salle's 10-point lead with three minutes left had evaporated behind a hail of three-pointers from UST swingman Rhenz Abando, and they were clinging to an 80-77 lead with 10 seconds left.
Overtime appeared to be inevitable after Andrei Caracut turned the ball over, and Abando raced down the court before stopping on a dime and pulling up for a long-range shot. The Green Archers caught a massive break, however, as Abando stepped on the line, and his shot counted for just two points.
"Tulala ako," said La Salle guard Aljun Melecio, when asked of his reaction to Abando's shot.
"Buti malaki sapatos niya," Melecio added. "Siguro kung si Renzo (Subido) 'yun, hindi stepping 'yun. Kasi malayo naman tumira 'yun."
La Salle went on to secure an all-important 80-79 win, a result that kept it in the hunt for a spot in the Final 4, and prevented UST and University of the Philippines from locking up semifinal berths.
Green Archers active consultant Jermaine Byrd acknowledged after the game that he felt "deja vu" at the moment.
"We know how we played against UP," said Byrd, referring to their loss to the Fighting Maroons in the first round when Juan Gomez de Liano netted the go-ahead three-pointer off a steal in the dying seconds of the game.
"We know how that ended," added Byrd. "Sometimes, basketball plays like that happen."
Byrd could only express his gratitude that the breaks went their way, saying: "Thank God it was a two."
The La Salle coaching staff was not surprised at the fight put up by UST, however, knowing very well how Aldin Ayo runs his team. Gian Nazario, La Salle's head coach, pointed out that the Growling Tigers are also jockeying for position in the Final 4.
"Until the buzzer sounds, hindi titigil 'yung laro," he said. "I'm glad we were able to pull through. Buti na lang stepping."
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