NU back in the Final Four after thrilling OT win

On the verge of getting the big boot, the Bulldogs of host National University proved they're not yet ready to call it a season.

Digging deep into their bag of tricks, the Bulldogs bucked a fourth-quarter meltdown with a blinding wind-up in the extra period to outlast Far Eastern University 84-81 in overtime Sunday and gain a much-anticipated trip to the Final Four in the UAAP Season 75 men's basketball action at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

Bobby Ray Parks, the league's reigning MVP, waxed hot anew with 27 points and provided the knockout punch--a booming triple in the stretch--to help NU complete its late-game uprising while forcing a three-way tie for third spot with FEU and idle La Salle, all  ending the eliminations with similar 9-5 records.

The Bulldogs, however, had the superior quotient, giving them the third seed and the right to face second-ranked University of Santo Tomas in the Final Four. The Tamaraws and the Green Archers will slug it out for the remaining semis seat on Wednesday at the MOA Arena.

“This is where we wanted to be at the start of the season,” beamed NU coach Eric Altamirano, who validated his team's preseason billing by steering the Bulldogs to the semis for the first time since 2001. “I kept reminding the boys that God has a plan for us and He will use those setbacks for us to come back.”

Cameroon reinforcement Emmanuel Mbe also came up big with 25 points and 13 rebounds for the Bulldogs, who fully pounced on the opportunity given by the UAAP Board, which junked the Tamaraws’ 77-75 victory last Sept. 2 and forced the replay game.

Kyle Neypes collected seven points while Jelo Alolino issued a game-high nine assists on top of seven markers and five boards issued a game-high nine assists for the Bulldogs.

“We’ve had a lot of close games this season and we always crumble in the end. But those things happen for a reason, maybe to make us tougher and learn how to comeback. They players showed a lot of courage and perseverance. They showed a lot of heart. We never gave up. We just kept coming,” Altamirano added.

After losing a comfortable 71-62 cushion in regulation and trailing 73-79 in overtime, the Bulldogs charged back with a nine-to-nothing blast, capped by Parks’ back-breaking trey to gain an 82-79 lead.

FEU star RR Garcia cut the deficit to a solitary point by sinking two freebies off a Jeoffrey Javillonar foul but Parks restored NU's three-point cushion by calmly draining two free throws with 16.7 seconds left.

The Tamaraws had no timeout left, forcing Terrence Romeo to rush the leather and kick out a pass to Russel Escoto, who failed to sink the potentially game-tying basket as the Bulldogs whooped it up.

Romeo fired 25 points and collected eight boards while Garcia contributed 13 markers, but those went for naught, leaving the Tamaraws fighting for dear life against the Green Archers on Wednesday.

"Lahat naman ginawa ng players. Effort at intensity andu'n. Kaso may lapses against the zone (defense)," lamented FEU coach Bert Flores. "Malungkot man kami, wala tayong magagawa. Bawi na lang sa Wednesday."


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