Far Eastern University shot itself out of a shooting slump. Encho Serrano crawled out of his shell. The Tamaraws and the La Salle Green Archers quashed their foes on Saturday, ending their topsy-turvy first round on a more positive note.
Serrano finished with a career-high 29 points and La Salle also benefited from senior Aljun Melecio’s 26 to whip University of Santo Tomas, 92-77 in UAAP men’s basketball at Mall of Asia Arena.
That gave the Archers, who were coming off a painful 72-71 loss to University of the Philippines, a rosier lens to look through when viewing their 3-4 record.
“We were due to win. When our team follows the game plan, trust that results will follow,” said La Salle head coach Gian Nazario, who kept UST (4-3) coach Aldin Ayo winless against his former school. “This time around, we made sure we would finish the game well.”
The Tamaraws also relied a on a career game from one of its standouts to thwart Adamson, 83-71, in the other game.
Pat Tchuente came through with personal bests of 21 points, 19 rebounds and six blocks—but it was FEU’s ability to knock down shots that felled the Falcons.
FEU averaged 60.2 points a game during its first six games, the lowest in the tournament, and team consultant Nash Racela said the 23-point turnaround on Saturday was a product of the players’ confidence.
“Coach Olsen [Racela] reminded them to always be confident with their shots and they didn’t hesitate today,” Racela said. “All we wanted was win our last game in the first round.”
FEU succeeded by shooting the ball at a 40-percent clip, 26 of 65, a far cry from their 19-percent shooting (15 of 79) in their 61-39 loss to National University recently.
The Tamaraws also used a scorching run to pull away as Cyrus Torres drilled back-to-back three-pointers and LJ Gonzales followed it up with a layup to give FEU a pivotal 68-52 lead in the third.
FEU thus tied La Salle at 3-4 and hauled Adamson to a three-way logjam at fourth to sixth places.
The Archers built a 42-32 lead at the half and quelled whatever uprising the Tigers tried to build to pull away in the second half. Justine Baltazar’s hook shot put La Salle up 78-61 late in the fourth.
But clearly, the spotlight was on Serrano, the normally outgoing former Adamson high school star who was in a somber mood before the game.
Serrano averaged 6.3 points and 3.0 rebounds in 15.5 minutes in La Salle’s first six games and was eager to snap out of his funk.
“I admit that I’m really frustrated and I kept asking myself why this was happening,” Serrano said in Filipino. “But I also started to think that I should prove myself starting in practice and then during games.”
“The past games were hard for me because I was not playing that much and my game wasn’t really there,” Serrano added.
Serrano’s sudden explosion came at the wrong time for the Tigers, who missed an opportunity to rise to second place. A UST win and a loss by University of the Philippines to Ateneo on Sunday would have put the España-based squad at second on quotient.
Brent Paraiso, who once played for La Salle, led the Tigers with 22 points while Soulemane Chabi Yo added 16 points and 14 rebounds.