The La Salle Green Archers weathered a late comeback by the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons and lived to fight another day as they escaped with a 83-80 triumph on Wednesday in the Final Four of the 84th University Athletic Association of the Philippines men’s basketball tournament at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Evan Nelle, playing his best game in his first year with the Green Archers, knocked in a career-high 26 points, including two crucial split charities in the final 12.1- and 5.1-second marks, the last of which finalized the count for the Green Archers.
Kurt Lojera shot 11 points for La Salle, which now has a chance to claim a finals’ berth since they last earned it in 2017.
The Green Archers saw their comfortable 22-point lead of 66-44 trimmed down to just three at 78-81 following a 9-0 run capped by a Gerry Abando triple in the final 14.1 seconds.
But foul trouble by the Maroons and a tough interior defense kept the ball in La Salle’s possession for most the remaining time.
Nelle split his free throws to give the Green Archers a four-point lead at 82-78 with 12.1 seconds, as Ricci Rivero flunked his attempt from deep in the ensuing play.
The twice-to-beat and second-seeded Fighting Maroons, getting game-high outputs of 18 points apiece from Malick Diouf and Ricci Rivero, will try once again to go for a finals’ seat against the third-seed Green Archers on Friday.
“We were trying to waste the time. But we didn’t come back on defense against UP. We were just trying to protect the lead, and we just waited the game to be over. Now, the boys know that the game isn’t over until it’s over. We just have to be ready for them next time,” said Archers’ coach Derrick Pumaren.
La Salle, which disrupted UP’s five-game winning streak, drew 15 and 11 points, respectively, from Justine Baltazar and Kurt Lojera. Baltazar also had 18 rebounds.