By Neal Tieng
There were only 28.1 seconds left on the clock when National U’s Shaun Idelfonso just drained a triple. That killer shot to complete the Bulldogs’ comeback from as many as 19 points down, and they took the lead for the first time at 81-82. What a huge turnaround. From excuding extreme confidence while controlling the game for the first 39 minutes, La Salle was reduced to a desperation attempt if they were to survive the furious NU comeback.
But winners always find a way to win.
Aljun Melecio dribbled through a double-team and found a back-cutting Kurt Lojera open near the baseline, who wasted no time and took the J from 10 feet.
The green crowd erupted with cheers with 14.2 seconds left on the clock with a one-point lead, knowing that they were one defensive stop away from clinching their first win in Season 82. Fortunately, NU’s last-gasp attempt failed to fall through the hoop, and La Salle escaped with a hairline victory, 83-82 last September 11, 2019 at the Araneta Coliseum.
In the face of victory, there were serious concerns. La Salle was in total control after Melecio and Malonzo powered 19-4 run to turn a 45-41 tight game into, what looked like, a decisive 64-45 runaway victory.
The walk to victory almost turned into the end-game nightmare, as the Bulldogs methodically reduced the lead one bite at a time, before nibbling the lead down to 7, 71-64. This put tremendous pressure on the Green Archers, who were giving rotation players more minutes at that juncture.
Upto this point, La Salle seemed to have the answer to every NU rally, with two transition baskets from Baltazar and an alley-hoop highlight reel slam by Malonzo off a feed from Melecio to jack up the lead back to 11, 75-64, with eight minutes to play.
Training at 81-70, triples by Bulldog John Lloyd Clemente and Shaun Idelfonso capped a 12-0 run in the final two minutes that would finally bring La Salle to a seemingly shocking setback, behind NU with less than a minute to play.
NU’s furious offensive run was backstopped by their blitzing defense, turning La Salle into a turnover machine, and under the gun, the Green Archers yielded the lead for the first and only time before Lojera saved the day for the Taft five.
Baltazar led the Archers with his first double-double of the season with 23 points and 10 boards, shooting an efficient 58.82% from the field and was +11 in all of his 32 minutes on the floor. Jaime Orme-Malonzo chipped in 14 points and 11 rebounds while Melecio turned in 12 points of his own.
La Salle will face winless UE at 2pm this Saturday, September 14, 2019 at the Mall of Asia Arena seeking their second straight victory and improve their win-loss record to 2-1.
ANIMO LA SALLE!