The game clock read 32.3 seconds.
The UP Fighting Maroons found themselves trailing the DLSU Green Archers by just one point in their do-or-die Final Four showdown. They were on the verge of completing a rally from the 14-point deficit, 70-56, that they faced with seven minutes left in the contest.
It was a season defining moment for both teams, but it was especially crucial for the favored Fighting Maroons who came into this campaign with title aspirations. They entered this series with a twice-to-beat advantage as the second seed and a similar fourth quarter rally in the previous game came too late which forced this winner-take-all affair.
In short, another loss to these overachieving Green Archers would have been disastrous.
The pressure was on full blast and the stakes–another shot at the ADMU Blue Eagles in the UAAP Finals–could not have been any higher for UP.
Given the magnitude of the situation, head coach Goldwyn Monteverde made the sensible and logical decision to put their fate in the hands of their main man.
No, it was not their poster boy Ricci Rivero and neither was it their prized Fil-Am recruit Zavier Lucero. Both players had struggled from the field all evening long, clearly fazed by the moment, and were on the sidelines for the most important offensive play of their season.
Instead, UP went to their rookie Carl Tamayo who proved once again that he is the best player on this team and no moment is too big for him.
He was set up by his teammate JD Cagulangan at the top of the key with a pick-and-pop for an isolation. These kinds of plays are hardly ever called for big men in the UAAP–further proof that this 21-year-old forward is special.
Tamayo sized up his much older Gilas Pilipinas teammate Justine Baltazar, playing in his fifth and final season for La Salle, before barrelling hard through the right lane. The 6’7 forward was unfazed by the pro-bound Baltazar and his uncanny quickness allowed him to easily blow by the veteran while evading the help of Schonny Winston.
He masterfully cut through their defense and finished with a strong lay-up while drawing a foul that brought half of the Mall of Asia Arena to their feet. The freshman then made the ensuing free throw to put them up by two points and they would not look back from that point on.
The Fighting Maroons held on for a 78-74 victory that set them up for a best-of-three finals with Ateneo for the second time in the last three seasons.
The shot was a signature moment for Tamayo that was the culmination of his powerful fourth quarter performance that brought them back into the game. He awoke from his vicious shooting slump that dated back to the previous game versus the Green Archers to score 12 of his 19 points in the final period.
He also had 10 rebounds, three assists, and four steals to cap his brilliant performance.
Tamayo has achieved the difficult task of exceeding the hype that he garnered coming out of the National University-Nazareth School, but has an even greater hurdle coming up. The Blue Eagles are gunning for their fourth consecutive title and are raring to avenge last week’s 84-83 loss to UP that snapped their 39-game winning streak that spanned four years.
It will not be easy, though the presence of this version of Tamayo gives UP more than a fighting chance against Ateneo.
Legends are born in these kinds of moments and the young Tamayo is already crafting an inspiring tale. It is conceivable that it may one day end with him being regarded as the best player in school history alongside the all-time great Benjie Paras from their 1986 title team.
The biggest challenge will be to finally end the Fighting Maroons’ 36-year title drought and Tamayo will have his first crack at it this Sunday.