This was a game where National University’s (NU) season was on the line. At 2-2, the Bulldogs were reeling. Another loss and well... who knows.
They were in this situation before. One year ago in fact.
In UAAP Season 74, in the first year of Eric Altamirano as head coach and Ray Ray Parks as the team’s big time savior, they started the season 1-4. Then came the low point when they lost to University of the East ,72-71. after Parks missed two free throws and an offensive putback as time expired. Although they got their bearings in the second round, it wasn’t enough to get on the Final Four bus as the Bulldogs fell flat on their faces at 6-8 to end the tournament.
They dueled with Far Eastern University (FEU) in a pair of nailbiters. The Tamaraws prevailed in the first round 62-59 and 84-82 in the second round.
This season, FEU looked to be the masters of the clutch win as all their previous four wins came with the final shot.
With 59 seconds left in the match between FEU and NU, Bobby Ray Parks went to the 15-foot line for a pair off free throws. His first free throw rimmed out and not even Parks’ body English could get it to stay in.
Parks adjusted and swished the second. 58-57 for NU.
The Tamaraws had the ball back and they moved it around to find the open man. The predictable thing about the Tams is that you know they are not going inside as they have preferred to shoot from the outside. To be fair, it isn’t such a bad idea when FEU’s Terrence Romeo was scorching from the outside. At that point, he had scored 18 points including four treys.
Romeo passed to RR Garcia, who, even if he hit a trey minutes earlier, gave the ball back to the former. Romeo passed to the left to Mike Tolomia but the latter passed it back. Guess neither Garcia (who has struggled of late) nor Tolomia wanted to take the last shot. The problem was the three-guard lineup of coach Bert Flores took too much time to figure out what they wanted to do that by the time Romeo released a desperation trey they were assessed a 24-second shot clock violation. Not that it mattered coz Romeo hoisted up a brick.
With a chance to further buffer the lead, Parks lost the ball and teammate Emmanuel Mbe was whistled for a foul. Except that Tamaraw rookie forward Rey Belo missed both free throws. Parks was fouled once more by Garcia and this time he nailed both freebies for a 60-57 lead. From the same spot where he bricked his trey attempt, Romeo tried another. Parks tried to block the ball and Romeo missed. NU Bulldog Mark de Guzman, himself trying to recapture his form when he was with the College of Saint Benilde, tacked on another free throw for the match’s final points and a huge come from behind 61-57 win.
The game was a classic one except that it got overly physical and dirty when the UAAP’s Bruise Brothers of Mark and Arvie Bringas (you can actually throw in Carl Cruz there) tried to get into the head of Mbe and Parks.
Bringas would do a Scottie Pippen on Mbe (the Chicago Bull once talked to the Utah Jazz’ Karl Malone before he took a pair of important free throws and the Mailman promptly missed). Cruz pointed to his temple to signify that he was using his brain in the ongoing psy-war.
Only the Tams could have used better decision-making in the game’s final minutes.