MEN­DOZA...

Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro - - World - AL S. MEN­DOZA ALL WRITE

When play re­sumed, La Salle had in its hands the most im­por­tant in­bound pass of the sea­son.

Alas, La Salle bun­gled it, fling­ing its weak­est pass in years that made An­drei Cara­cut im­pos­si­bly un­able to make a clear catch.

Matt Ni­eto was there to deny Cara­cut what would have been the in­sur­ance scoop, tap­ping the toss onto Ate­neo coun­try be­fore fish­ing a foul him­self with 3.1 ticks left.

Ni­eto, shak­ing the cob­webs of his missed free throws last year that keyed La Salle’s tri­umph in their 2016 Fi­nals duel, coolly sank the game-win­ning char­i­ties.

Ni­eto’s Dad, a for­mer Ea­gle him­self, was caught on TV seem­ingly pray­ing “Hail Mary” while his son were de­liv­er­ing the fa­tal blows for La Salle.

But La Salle had one last stab at vic­tory when its last in­bound play with 3.1 sec­onds left went true as an ar­row as Ben Mbala, the chief Archer, caught it.

But at times, even the best could be in their worst.

Mbala acted sui­ci­dal try­ing in­sanely to barge his way into the hoop, sense­lessly plod­ding into an Ate­neo wall to com­pletely miss it. Kit Mon­talbo, the Ni­eto fouler, would flub a fol­low-up at the buzzer.

Af­ter the thriller de­serv­ing of the tag “Sun­day Sus­pense Theater,” a friend of mine said: “This game proves that Ayo [La Salle coach] is no good at craft­ing a win­ning in­bound play.”

Losers take the rap—al­most al­ways.

TIME left was 9.1 sec­onds (not 7.1). La Salle led Ate­neo 75-74. By any­one’s reck­on­ing—save for half of the 14,717 crowd that packed the MOA Arena in Pasay—La Salle would be off and run­ning to its sixth win in seven games (its lone loss was painfully in­flicted by lowly UP).

Should La Salle’s win be com­pleted, it would snap Ate­neo’s six-game win­ning streak. They’d be tied 6-1 for the lead af­ter the first round of the UAAP bas­ket­ball tour­na­ment.

All the signs were there for a La Salle vic­tory.

One, La Salle had ball pos­ses­sion. Two, La Salle had a time­out, which it had har­nessed to the fullest.

Three, Ate­neo, which had con­trolled the game al­most all through­out af­ter build­ing a 28-16 first quar­ter bub­ble, had sud­denly turned as cold as ice—un­able to hit a sin­gle bas­ket in the last five min­utes of the elec­tric-laden bat­tle.

But what hap­pened next was like a scene from a Greek drama of ages ago: Glory for Ate­neo, tragedy for La Salle.

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