MANILA, Philippines - When Carl Bryan Cruz hit a three-pointer to open the fourth period and tie the game at 64, the pressure shifted to the UE Red Warriors as they hoped to keep their final four hopes alive.
Though by the end of the game on Sunday, September 7, at the Smart Araneta Coliseum, one thing was very clear: UE isn't going away any time soon, and they're only getting better.
The Red Warriors looked absolutely dominant in the fourth quarter against the FEU Tamaraws, scoring 30 points while limiting their adversaries to just 11 - most of which coming in garbage time - to come away with a 94-71 victory and keep their hunt for a playoffs slot alive.
"I think the boys really showed their guts out tonight. They didn't wanna lose," UE head coach Derrick Pumaren said after the game. "We played a hell of a defense in the fourth quarter. We were able to defend their dribble-drive offense. We were there to challenge every shot."
The Red Warriors improve to 7-5 on the season and have won four of their last five games, while the Tamaraws, who entered the game atop the UAAP Season 77 men's basketball standings, fall to 10-3 to tie with the Ateneo Blue Eagles.
FEU and ADMU will go head to head on Saturday, September 13, with the winner taking the top seed in the Final Four round.
UE, on the other hand, will look to continue its push to the playoffs when they take on DLSU on Wednesday, September 10.
"We are not out of the woods yet. We are still trying to stay alive," Pumaren added.
"We know the tough task ahead of us," explained Pumaren. "We have to be ready. we cannot be too happy about it. It's not over yet."
After Cruz hit the three to tie the contest, Roi Sumang, who was benched as a result of disciplinary action in UE's last game, scored 8 of his team's next 12 points to put the Red Warriors ahead, 76-65.
The Tamaraws couldn't buy a basket from the field with UE's full-court press suffocating their ball handlers and the presence of Charles Mammie in the paint limiting Mac Belo and Anthony Hargrove.
After Pedrito Galanza scored 7 straight markers to make the count 83-65, a resounding slam by Charles Mammie at the 2:56 mark of the fourth period served as the dagger of the game.
Galanza finished with 26 points and 4 dimes, while Mammie put up 18 markers and 7 boards despite getting into early foul trouble.
Sumang played only 14 minutes, but notched 9 points - all in the playoff period.
"With the minutes that he played, he really played well, especially with the second half in the fourth quarter," Pumaren complimented his star scorer after the game.
"I'm happy for him," he added.
Belo had 16 to lead FEU, while Achie Inigo pitched in 10 points and 5 assists. Hargrove finished with 9, same for Mike Tolomia, who went 3-of-10 from the field.
UE forced FEU to 33 turnovers, while making 23 of their own. The Red Warriors won the battle of the paint, outscoring the Tams 54-30.
UE fell into trouble early as Mammie picked up two quick fouls and wound up playing just two minutes the entire first half.
Hargrove got off to a hot start to the game, scoring six quick points on putbacks and easy scoring opportunities under the rim.
Starting the game without Sumang who didn't check in until the 1:41 mark of the first period, University of the East went on a quick 9-0 run thanks to the combined efforts of RR De Leon, Galanza, and Paul Varilla to take a 19-13 lead.
In need of a spark, Tolomia and Inigo took care of scoring early in the second quarter for the Tamaraws, as they spearheaded an 8-0 run that got their club within one, 26-25.
However, it was all Red Warriors the rest of the quarter as Galanza finished with 15 points after 20 minutes of play while UE was on top by 7, 44-37.
UE (94): Galanza 26, Mammie 18, Alberto 10, De Leon 9, Sumang 9, Javier 7, Varilla 5, Hernandez 2, Jumao-as 2, Arafat 2, Olayon 2, Palma 2, Charcos 0, Cudal 0, Guiang 0
FEU (71): Belo 16, Inigo 10, Tolomia 9, Hargrove 9, Cruz 8, Tamsi 6, Pogoy 5, Ugsang 5, Jose 3, Delfinado 0, Denila 0, Yu 0, Escoto 0, David 0
Quarter Scores: 21-17, 44-37, 64-61, 94-71