Newcomers deliver the goods in UST’s second straight victory | Inquirer Sports
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Newcomers deliver the goods in UST’s second straight victory

UST's Joshua Fontanilla and Paul Manalang celebrate. UAAP PHOTO

Joshua Fontanilla comes up with clutch hits for UST. —Photo courtesy of UAAP MEDIA

Out of the ruins of a nuked program, University of Santo Tomas (UST) emerged with a team hardly recognizable from the one that flaunted a talent depth and breathtaking system on the way to a UAAP finals appearance.

And after an opening day loss where they trailed by as many as 29 points and looked out of their league, these new Tigers are starting to make a proper introduction.

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Joshua Fontanilla delivered the clutch shots as UST summoned enough endgame savvy from its young squad to hold off Adamson, 79-72, in Season 84 men’s basketball tournament Saturday at Mall of Asia Arena.

Fontanilla scored five straight points, including a crucial three-pointer that gave the Growling Tigers a 77-70 lead with 19.3 seconds to go en route to their second consecutive victory to improve to 2-2, tying National University at fourth place.

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Bulldogs win“I wanted to help my team because I failed to make my presence felt in the first three quarters,” said the transferee guard from St. Clare, who tallied 10 points, four rebounds and three assists.

NU had earlier scored its second win after a 73-68 victory over Far Eastern U, with the Bulldogs hosing down a 33-point effort by Tamaraws rookie RJ Abarrientos.

UST’s own rookie, Paul Manalang, produced 15 points on 5-of-7 shooting from beyond the arc, adding five assists and three rebounds as the young Tigers are slowly feeling their way into relevance following the loss of their core.

An ill-advised training camp in Sorsogon during a government-imposed lockdown at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic tore apart UST’s key standouts, with skipper CJ Cansino bolting to University of the Philippines, Mark Nonoy joining La Salle and Rhenz Abando and Brent Paraiso transferring to Letran in the NCAA.

That forced UST, which finished second to Ateneo in 2019, into a rebuild around guys like Fontanilla, Manalang, Bryan Santos (nine points, eight rebounds against Adamson) and Nic Cabanero (eight points, two steals). It also left coach Jinino Manansala, who took over from the suspended Aldin Ayo, pleading for patience as he tries to reassemble his predecessor’s “Mayhem,” an anarchy-by-design system that often left foes dazed and gasping.

Maroons, Eagles triumph

“These young players showed that they can deliver down the stretch and finish the game,” said Manansala, whose wards actually led against UP before losing steam in the second half. “They also lessen our turnovers compared to our previous games.”

Sherwin Concepcion, one of the previous team’s holdovers who scored 25 points in the past two games, was limited to just seven points, shooting 1-of-8 from deep. But his teammates waxed hot beyond the arc, nailing 14 three-pointers in the game.

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In the other game, UP banked on its blazing start and displayed its composure down the stretch in an 81-66 rout of University of the East.

Zavier Lucero led the Maroons with 14 points, including a lay-up in the 3:46 mark of the third quarter for a 65-35 lead. He also collected six rebounds, one assist and a block.

The highlight individual performance of the day, however, belonged to Abarrientos. Too bad it came in a loss.

The rookie guard drilled eight three pointers, tying the most points scored by a Tamaraw since Terence Romeo’s 33 in Season 76 nine years ago.

“We’re so frustrated. Our team is so down after what happened. We’re struggling and it’s hard to lose three straight games,” said Abarrientos after the loss.

Abarrientos was shut down by NU’s airtight defense in the fourth quarter, where he only scored three points and his team only scored one field goal in the last five minutes of the game.

“Obviously, they tightened their defense on me. It was a big challenge for me and the team. NU has a deeper bench that made us struggle in the last quarter. We had a lot of struggles and mistakes,” he said.

John Lloyd Clemente and Mike Malonzo starred for NU, with the latter delivering five straight points as the Bulldogs turned a four-point deficit into a 71-66 lead with 38 seconds left in the game.

In a late game, Ateneo routed La Salle, 74-57, to remain unbeaten at 4-0 (win-loss)—With a report from Lance Agcaoili

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