by JV Sacramento
The UE Red Warriors relied on Rey Suerte’s late-game heroics to bail them out and stun the De La Salle Green Archers, 89-88, last Saturday in the first round of UAAP Season 82 at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Suerte scored a game-high 31 points, including two three-pointers that denied the Archers a comeback win after they battled from being down by as many as 13 points, and by 7 entering the fourth quarter. Former Green Archer Neil Tolentino chipped in with 19 points to help his current team defeat his former.
Justine Baltazar and Aljun Melecio both led La Salle in scoring with 21 each, but it wouldn’t be enough to deny the Red Warriors their first win in four games. With the loss, the Green Archers fell to sixth place with a 1-2 record.
The Green Archers, who were playing without Jamie Malonzo and Keyshawn Meeker, both down with injuries, seemed to have the game in control early, but the Warriors had other plans. They raced to a 24-18 lead, and closed the first quarter with a 28-24 lead.
The second quarter was more problematic for the green and white, as the Red Warriors built their biggest lead of the game at 13 points. Turnovers and lackluster play on both ends plagued the Green Archers, which the upstart UE team took advantage of en route to a 48-37 lead after 20 minutes, in which La Salle were limited to only six points in the last four minutes of the first half.
Effort was a problem for the Green Archers, especially in the first half, as the Red Warriors outhustled and outplayed the players in green and white for most of the first half.
La Salle showed more gusto in the court as the second half started. They started the third quarter with a run to cut the deficit to two. However, the Red Warriors would respond to the Green Archers’ challenge, as they held a 70-63 lead to restore order heading into the fourth quarter.
The Green Archers would then make their move in the dying minutes of the game, as they scored 9 straight points to take an 83-81 lead with a minute and change left in the contest. Chris Conner and Encho Serrano traded two made free throws each, and La Salle still held on to an 85-83 lead.
And then came Suerte, just in time to save the Red Warriors. He drained a contested three, with sixteen seconds left, to give the Red Warriors an 86-85 lead. Aljun Melecio was almost the hero of the game, as he drained a three at the top of the key to restore La Salle’s two point lead.
Suerte then put the cherry on his career-best afternoon with a three over the outstretched arms of Kurt Lojera, to give the team from Recto an 89-88 lead with three seconds left. La Salle had one last chance at a heave, but Melecio’s effort bounce off the rim, as the Red Warriors rushed to celebrate their teammate’s clutch performance.
The Green Archers will try to bounce back from the loss against the FEU Tamaraws, who are also coming off a loss from the defending champions Blue Eagles. The game is on Wednesday, September 18, at the Mall of Asia Arena.