by Neal Tieng
The new look Green Archer squad is starting to show the promise of greater things as La Salle won their first game under a new coach by outplaying 2019 NCAA champions Letran Knights, 102-90 at the San Juan Arena last March 2, 2020 on opening day of the PBA D-League Aspirants Cup.
With comeback coach Derrick Pumaren finally coaching his first official game, this was a much-awaited encounter which was seen to provide early replies to lingering questions of every DLSU basketball follower. Will the Green Archers improve? Will they play better defense? Will we parade a new import? What will coach Derrick wear to the game?
Immediately after jump ball, these doubts were squashed.
La Salle fielded a very unfamiliar starting five of Aljun Melecio, Joshua David, Amadou Ndyaye, Joaqui Manuel and Ty Hill, and blitzed Letran from the very first second. Showcasing quick ball rotation and a very sticky, swarming inside-outside defense, they raced to an early 13-4 lead after Melecio canned a trey with five minutes gone.
The new edition defensive schemes under Coach Pumaren featured the trapping full court press that forced a surprised Letran team to five passing miscues only in the first five minutes. With the green shirts sticking like glue to their assignments, the defending flustered 2019 NCAA champions could not get an easy bucket.
La Salle cruised to an easy 24-15 lead en route to a huge 53-34 lead at the half. The key to that biggest La Salle lead was the defense, which shut down Letran’s offensive options and forced them into harassed shots, making only 13/45 from the field for a 28% clip.
On the other end, the Green Archers were offensively fluid, swiftly moving the ball around and finding the right open man for a quality look, and it showed as they 47% of their shots. Letran tried their own version of the full court press, but the effective press break plays of the Archers turned the traps into converted opportunities from easy baskets.
At the start of the second half, the game turned a little chippy as the champions in Letran were not going to give up without a fight. They’re not the defending NCAA champs for nothing, and don’t back down from a challenge even in a non-NCAA tournament.
Knight Fran Yu, a former protegee of Coach Derrick when they were both in UE, played as efficiently as he did in the 2019 NCAA championship game. Draining contested long shots and squeaking in for lay-ups, Yu was able to breathe life into the flat Letran team with the help from his friends in the starting five. Their efforts allowed them to finally slice the deficit to 10 after Archer Ralph Cu committed a landing spot flagrant foul with 13 seconds to go in the 3rd. Neil Andrei Guarino made two out his three free throws to bring the Knights closer at 73-63.
A frenetic sequence of plays led to a personal 7-0 scoring run by Yu that triggered the Knights’ final stand at 84-78 with 5:31 to go in the game.
The Archers were not flustered, and showed a renewed sense of organization trusted their patterns even under duress. The Green Archers Quick ball movements eventually freed up Melecio who drained it from deep before Justin Baltazar canned two freethrows to bring the lead back to 88-78 with 4:54 left. Despite several attempts by Letran to come back, La Salle protected the double digit lead until the final buzzer. The system, new as it is, would eventually prevail.
It was an early test for Coach Derrick who is rebooting his career in La Salle.
What We Saw
- The Green Archers were fluid and the impact of Coach Derrick Pumaren was apparent in the manner the team played. Defense was persistent and tight, forcing Letran into 22 turnovers. La Salle also showed early that they are a good two-way team with great offensive sets and deliberate attacks tallying 28 assists compared to Letran’s 11.
- Amadou Ndiyae’s debut showed evidence that our import is still work in progress. The good part is that he has a good touch from mid-range and showed some signs of being a good rim protector. But he played only 19 minutes due to foul trouble, finishing with 12 points and 8 boards. It could be described as an underwhelming debut against a team that has no import, and which was missing key slotman Larry Muyang.
- Aljun Melecio’s maturity is very evident as the prolific scoring point guard balanced feeding his teammates while not forgetting his own production; his effective playmaking was key to dismantling the Letran defense. A speed demon known for his court to mess up his guard’s footwork, Melecio’s passing ability was in full display with his 8 assists to come with his 15 points and 6 rebounds.
- It was a sterling debut for rookie Joshua David, who was inserted in the starting line-up and spent the most time on the floor for the men in green with 27 minutes. He aptly repaid his coach’s trust with 12 points, 6 rebounds, 8 assists, 2 blocks and 2 steals.
Welcome back Coach Derrick Pumaren!