The Ateneo Blue Eagles endured another tough loss that saw their 15-point lead fade into nothing.
Ateneo was off to a good start as they controlled the game for the first 20 minutes. They had 15 assists in the first half (22 in total), which exceeds the 13 dimes that La Salle dished for the whole game. They were moving the ball seamlessly, thanks to the combined efforts of Kiefer Ravena, Jerie Pingoy, and Matt Nieto at the point. Their big men were delivering underneath. Ponso Gotladera continues to enjoy playing against his old team.
Then the Green Archers came out of the dugout with renewed energy, adjusting their defense, and slowing down the pace to their advantage. All the starters came alive to lead the charge with Jason Perkins waxing hot from downtown. He finished with 13 points (three triples), while Thomas Torres and Prince Rivero also contributed in double digits with 15 and 10 respectively.
King Eagle vs. King Archer
The King Eagle and King Archer unsurprisingly topscored for their respective teams. They made almost the same number of shots but Jeron had fewer tries. Kiefer took 24 (only seven made) of the Eagles’ 66 attempts, while La Salle’s attempts were more balanced. More than these numbers, however, the stark contrast between their performances can be seen in what happened in the endgame.
Below are the fourth quarter shot charts of Kiefer and Jeron courtesy of Imperium.
La Salle possession, 76-74 in favor of Ateneo, 30 seconds left: Jeron got the ball, gave it to Perkins, who then dropped it to Josh Torralba. Swoosh! Dagger triple. How were they able to execute that? Scene: Chibueze Ikeh was on Perkins, Kiefer was on Jeron. A defensive switch was supposed to happen when Perkins provided the screen, but for some reason, when Ikeh went to Jeron, Kiefer went to no one in particular. Von, initially guarding Torralba, had to cover Perkins. Ikeh had to sprint from the top of the key towards a wide open Torralba in the corner but it was impossible to get there in time to challenge the shot. No choice for Ateneo but to foul in the next sequence that led to two clutch freebies by Jeron.
Ateneo possession, 79-76 in favor of La Salle, 10 seconds left: Kiefer got the ball and took a potential game-tying triple over Jeron. Clank! Fourth consecutive miss. Von was not even in the position to shoot at that time (credits to Chuck Araneta for pointing this out) to distract the defense. It’s like everybody on the court just froze to witness Kiefer and Jeron go at it. The Phenom was 3-of-10 from the field and 0-of-3 from the line in the payoff period, but only a fool would think there’s no chance in hell that Kiefer could make that shot.
But he didn’t and such is life.
- Kiefer’s breakaway two-handed slam in the first frame was a thing of beauty. This man has seriously impressive hops.
- Ikeh also threw down the ball, guys. TWICE. That’s a great sign that he could finish strong and that it’s no longer a crazy idea to give him the ball underneath.
- Kiefer’s usage rate of 43.4 percent is insanely high. He really should’ve passed the ball more in the last stretch. Maybe not in the final possession, but in the sequences leading to that.
- Jerie Pingoy played a really good game and finished with six points and eight dimes. He assisted 55.7 percent of his teammates’ field goals while he was on the floor. Ateneo needs more of that in the second round.
I’ve been saying in previous years that Coach Bo made use of the cards he was dealt with in the best way he can. We may not like it, we may not agree with him, but the guy tried. Post-Norman Black, we didn’t just lose a champion coach, we didn’t just lose key pieces that included Greg Slaughter, we also trailed behind in the recruitment game. The uncertainties and controversies surrounding the blue squad back then discouraged high school stars from choosing Ateneo over, let’s say, La Salle. This year, however, is different as the Blue Eagles are relatively more loaded. There were also blue chip recruits last year (that I wished were utilized more) but I was more optimistic coming into Season 78. We’ve seen glimpses of excellent ball movement (case in point: this game’s first half), but for some reason, they crumble in the endgame. They still get lost on defense. They still rely on too many isolation plays. I personally believe that a coaching overhaul is needed, but NOT midway through the season. They need adjustments but not in this magnitude. Not right now. They can do that in the offseason to give both the coaches and players enough time to learn the ropes. For now they need to focus on the task at hand without being forced to adapt to drastic changes.