Mac Belo's game and grit shine with everything on the line

FEU's Mac Belo, UAAP Mythical 5 member and eventual Finals MVP, drives past UST's Jamil Sheriff during the 2nd half of the UAAP Finals Game 3 at the Mall of Asia Arena, Wednesday. The Tamaraws kept the Tigers at bay late in the fourth, copping their 20th championship in the league. | Efigenio Toledo IV/Philstar.com

MANILA, Philippines - In the final, frantic seconds of the game that must've felt like an agonizing wait to end a string of frustrating years, Mac Belo stood in the middle, looking to script a perfect ending to his collegiate career.

Belo stepped into the UAAP Finals Game 3's floor late in the third looking to ignite another FEU run against UST. While he was decent from the line, he looked like he wasn't up for such task. He winced repeatedly. His body-even after already tallying 18 points- looked like it wasn't his.

The score was 51-43 in favor of the Tamaraws. UST's Marvin Lee closed the period with booming triple which would then spark a 16-0 run.

Belo was nowhere on the floor in the opening phase of the final salvo. He was being attended on along the sidelines by the Tamaraws' medical staff. Usually wearing a deadpan look in the game, the graduating Tamaraw wrapped half of his face with his elbow in discomfort. Nobody in that decisive moment could have suspected how much was on the line for someone who was dubbed as "King Tamaraw," a "Gilas pool trooper" and the "next big thing" to enter the pros.

But he did.

Belo re-entered the game with halfway through the final period. He wore the face of another man-someone resolved to turn back a likely nullification of a bond between his date with fate-of quenching a decade-long championship drought.

"Mindset ko talaga ay ibigay na ang lahat," the FEU skipper said. "Wala nang bukas eh." When the cramps hit him, he recalled that he just "relied to his teammates."

And he did give it all. He added five more points-most of them on free throws to build a cushion against the Growling Tigers. And as the breaks of the game would dictate it, he also led FEU in rebounds with 11.

Belo wasn't wrong when he trusted his teammates in the final stretch, either. Mike Tolomia enabled RR Pogoy to score in the last three minutes of the game. The latter would pile up more points as UST would try to bridge the gap.

In the end, Belo was carried off by teammates and the coaching staff. And there's no more fitting consolation to his hurting body than the Finals Most Valuable Player Award minted on him and the 20th piece to join FEU's men's basketball tournament trophies.

"'Yung tiwala namin sa isa't isa, malaki," he noted. "May pressure¬Ö Binaon na namin sa limot 'yung last year."

It has come full circle for the workhorse, who averaged 17.3 points and 10.7 boards in the series.

And just like that, a date with destiny fulfilled. A demon from last year exorcised. A fitting end to a collegiate career wrapped in ribbons. A void in FEU's shelves finally filled.

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