FEU-NRMF-Gerry’s Grill threw its full might against a hard-fighting Philippine Air Force to hammer out a vengeful 95-69 win and clinch the first finals berth in the 2016 MBL Open basketball tournament at the EAC Sports Center in Ermita, Manila yesterday.
Fil-Canadian sensation Clay Crellin provided the spark for FEU-NRMF, hitting a variety of baskets from almost all sides of the court in the first and second quarters to power the Niño Reyes-managed team to the final of this prestigious seven-team tournament sponsored by Smart Sports, Ironcon Builders, Star Bread, Dickies Underwear and Gerry’s Grill.
Crellin, the 6-4 sparkplug who leads the MVP race with an average of almost 22 points a game during the elimination round, finished with18 points against Air Force’s tight defense. He scored 14 points in the first two periods when FEU-NRMF pulled away for good, 56-32, from a close first quarter.
African imports Moustapha Arafat and Bright Akhuetie provided the muscle on the defensive floor as FEU-NRMF avenged a heartbreaking 82-84 setback to Air Force in the elimination round.
Arafat, the 6-6 Cameroonian center, added 18 points, while Akhuetie, the 6-8 Nigerian banger, contributed 11 points for FEU-NRMF, which led from start to finish..
But it was on the defensive end where Arafat and Akhuetie shone brightest, alternating in protecting the shaded area for the Fairview, Quezon City-based team.
Former Lyceum mainstay Dexter Zamora and ex-PBA stars Jerwin Gaco and Erick Rodriguez also provided the much-needed leadership to the team.
So dominant was FEU-NRMF that Crellin, Arafat and Akhuetie all had highlight plays to the delight of a highly-appreciative Friday afternoon crowd.
Jerry Lumongsod and Raniel Jake Diwa carried the fight for the Alvin Zuniga-mentored Jet Force with 13 and 12 points, respectively.
Diwa had his finest moment in the payoff period with 10 points, including five in a row.
Rama Krishna Morales, one of three Air Force players in the Top 10 scoring leaders, was held to only eight markers by the pressing defense of veteran Eugene Tan.
Morales, who delivered the buzzer-beating three-point shot in Air Force’s upset win over FEU-NRMF last Oct. 19, made only one three-pointer compared to six he made in their previous outing. He went scoreless in the final two periods..
Jonjon Rebollos, who hit seven three-pointers in the upset win by Air Force, only had two this time for his six points. FEU-NRMF will now wait for the winner of the other semifinal match between elimination round topnotcher Emilio Aguinaldo College and defending champion Macway Travel Club.
The Generals, handled by coach Ariel Sison and assistant coach Bong Melocoton, enjoy a twice-to-beat advantage over Macway.
The championship is a winner-take-all encounter.
FEU-NRMF-Gerry’s Grill (95) -- Crellin 18, Arafat 16, Zamora 13, Akhuetie 11, Camacho 8, Manalo 8, Gaco 7, Tamsi 6, Rodriguez 4, Raymundo 4, Tan 0.
Air Force (69) -- Lumongsod 13, Diwa 12, Morales 8, Cordero 7, Rebollos 6, Tano 6, Cuasay 5,Valdevilla 4, Almerol 4, Ollano 2, Dizon 2, Malig-on 0, Regalado 0.
Quarterscores: 24-18, 56-32, 80-48, 95-6.9.