A promise put forth, a promise fulfilled.

The University of the Philippines (UP) Fighting Maroons secure the third seed after defeating the De La Salle University (DLSU) Green Archers, 97-81, on Wednesday, November 14, in the UAAP Season 81 Men’s Basketball Tournament held at the SM Mall of Asia Arena.

UP snapped the longest active final four drought in the UAAP.

Bright Akhuetie scored the first bucket of the game and DLSU couldn’t answer back until Aljun Melecio finally put the Green Archers on the board, 2-2. Melecio would then drain two threes to give Taft-based squad a six-point, 6-12, lead in the middle of the first frame.

Both teams had several empty possessions, but UP quickly took advantage of DLSU being plagued with turnovers and careless fouls, which put the Fighting Maroons up, 25-17, to end the first.

UP went up by as much as 24 points in the second canto to sit on a comfortable lead to end, 52-29. Entering halftime, State U showcased their offensive prowess as they shot efficiently from the field with 54.29% and from the line and beyond the arc, both with 58.33%.

Come third quarter, both teams went back and forth, but DLSU still couldn’t catch up to the Fighting Maroons and maintained their double-digit lead, 75-54.

DLSU opened the fourth frame with a 7-0 run that hyped up the green-clad crowd, but Javi Gomez De Liano quickly silenced them with a corner triple. He and skipper Paul Desiderio would then score two more triples to put UP on a 22-point cushion, 84-62.

Emotions ran high in the final moments of the game as State U could already smell the victory, and stopped playing with around 120 seconds remaining and sealed the win, 97-81.

Describing the surreal moment Head coach Bo Perasol said, “When I looked at ‘yung malaking scoreboard while we were singing our hymn, may asterisk doon ‘yung UP Maroons, naiyak ako parang totoo na ba yan? Kasama na ba kami diyan?”

“The asterisk says it all. We’re part of the final four cast and we’re going to vie for it,” he added.

Juan Gomez De Liano scored a game-high 27 points and was perfect from the charity stripe (11/11 FTs) while older brother Javi tied his career-high 19 points shooting 4/5 from the three-point line. MVP favorite Bright Akhuetie posted his usual double-double with 16 points and 20 rebounds. Team captain Paul Desiderio stuffed the stat sheet with 10 points, four rebounds, two assists, and two steals.

Big man Justine Baltazar served as a bright spot for DLSU scoring 22 points.

UP finished the elimination round with a 8-6 win-loss record and will now go on to compete in the semifinals. TNP

Photo by Josiah Antonio

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