Former Eagles Racela, Tolentino and Cani come up big in FEU’s surprise drubbing of Ateneo

MANILA, Philippines – All season long, people have been wondering what it would take to defeat the once-unbeaten Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU) Blue Eagles. Their eternal rival De La Salle University (DLSU) Green Archers even had to mount a 10-0 comeback last Sunday, November 12, just to escape with a 3-point victory.

As it turns out, it takes a group of former Eagles to take down the current Eagles, namely Far Eastern University (FEU) Tamaraws head coach Olsen Racela, Arvin Tolentino and Hubert Cani.

In his Final 4 coaching debut, “Rahrah” Racela evenly distributed playing time throughout his roster, and it was the former Ateneo role players behind leading scorer Ron Dennison who delivered the most.

Tolentino did most of his damage in the first half, preventing the struggling Blue Eagles squad to regain any kind of momentum to run away with the lead like they did in their first round matchup. When his feared perimeter shots weren’t falling, the 6-foot-5 power forward took his game to the post with a series of spinning layups and hooks.

Cani meanwhile, answered the call in the second half, stretching the floor with his perimeter shooting. Along with fellow guards Jojo Trinidad, Jasper Parker and Wendell Comboy, the FEU backcourt shut down Ateneo’s main offensive engine led by Matt Nieto, who was held scoreless in the Eagles’ 13-point 3rd quarter. For the 2nd half, Ateneo’s backcourt was held to 3/17 from 3-point territory.

With momentum on Morayta’s side, the Tamaraws held their ground with 15 2nd chance points – all coming in the 2nd half. Riding the rousing chorus of elated fans, Cani pulled up for a dagger trey to put his new team up 15, 75-60, with less than 3 minutes remaining. Ateneo’s final 7 points didn’t matter anymore as FEU coasted to negate their twice-to-beat advantage and force a do-or-die match on Wednesday, November 22. When it mattered the most, the Tamaraws fixed their season-long problem of finishing games and finished well.

Despite the magnitude of their upset and overall storyline this season, however, Coach Racela always reminded his players to keep their head down.

“One game. One game,” the former Ateneo guard and 9-time PBA champion emphasized. “Sabi ko sa kanila (I told them), just narrow your focus and focus on today’s game. Don’t think about what happened in the past or how we got to the Final 4. Don’t think about the next game – just think about today’s game.”

Clearly, this mentality has already been absorbed by Racela’s players, including the former Eagle duo of Tolentino and Cani.

“Masarap manalo,” said Cani after being asked whether this victory against his old team was sweeter than others. “Pero gaya nga ng sabi ni Coach Olsen – next play, so itong game na 'to, tapos na 'to, so iniisip na lang namin yung next game.” (“It feels nice to win. But like what Coach Olsen said – next play, so this game is over and we’re just thinking of the next game.”)

After being in danger of falling out of Final 4 contention as late as their final regular season game, the FEU Tamaraws are now just one win away from returning to the Finals. One game, indeed. –