The Ateneo Blue Eagles pulled off a huge come-from-behind victory against the FEU Tamaraws, 68-64, to clinch the top spot and the elusive twice-to-beat advantage in the Final Four.
Mind you, it’s not the slowly-but-surely-cut-the-deficit type of comeback. The Eagles had to go ratatatatat in the dying minutes to be able to force an overtime. Just like the game against UP, the free throw gods listened to Ateneo’s prayers as Mike Tolomia missed the potential game-winning freebies. Of course, Mikee Reyes was quick to sympathize with him.
THE THIRTY-MINUTE EYESORE
The top two offensive teams in the league ironically could not get their offense going in the first quarter. FEU scouted Ateneo’s newfound inside game so well, intercepting their passes and anticipating their undergoal stabs. Meanwhile, the Eagles came prepared with their man-to-man defense. Aside from misfiring from the field, both squads were sloppy with the ball as they combined for 27 turnovers at the half, which include quite a number of traveling infractions and offensive fouls.
The third quarter was the worst for Ateneo as they gave up 20 points and only scored eight. For those who got used to the Coach Norman Black halftime-adjustments era, this was completely unacceptable. Fortunately, the Eagles did not wave the white flag until their shots finally, finally started falling in the fourth, giving them enough momentum to outlast the Tamaraws in the extra period.
THE SURGE VS THE COLLAPSE
Entering the final frame, Ateneo was down by 19 points. They tried to trim the lead down early on but the Tamaraws led by Roger Pogoy made sure to respond to all their baskets. At the six-minute mark, with the score at 55-38, the Blue and White did the seemingly impossible and completed an incredible 23-4 run.
Mr. Clutch himself, Kiefer Ravena, made 12 of his 23 points in that rally. He was shooting horribly all throughout (5-of-28 from the field, 12-of-18 from the line) but he delivered the goods when it mattered. He drained 9-of-10 FTs in the last 15 minutes of action. The Phenom also contributed five rebounds, five assists, and two steals.
THE CHARITIES AND 2ND CHANCES
The poor free throw shooting of FEU is probably haunting them right now. They were rewarded with 32 freebies but they only claimed 13. Meanwhile, the Eagles who average 30.8 in free throw rate (league leader) coming into this ballgame continued to make a living out of charities. They had two less attempts compared to the Tamaraws but they converted way better at 70%.
Ateneo outrebounded FEU (57-46), barely edging in offensive boards (13-12) but clearly winning in second-chance points (12-4).
- He rarely gets the Player of the Game recognition but Chris Newsome has always been the steady rock that Ateneo clings on to for dear life. For those who haven’t noticed, he has put up MVP numbers all season long too. More importantly, he fulfills the superhero task of stopping the strongest villains, who happened to be Mac Belo (16-8-2, 2 stls, 1 blk) and Tolomia (10-6-6, 2 stls) in this plot. He finished with 13 points, 16 rebounds (career-high), three assists, and four steals.
- Ponso Gotladera sparked the crazy fourth quarter run of Ateneo. He patiently worked hard under the basket to give extra possessions and buckets for Ateneo. Nine markers, seven rebounds, one assist, one steal, and two blocks in 15 minutes – Gotladera is all about quality. He needs to practice his FT shooting though (perhaps he and Kiefer should do it together) as opponents have been evidently exploiting this weakness.
- Some of the questionable decisions that Arvin Tolentino (five rebounds, two assists) made in this match: penetrating the lane when his defender was obviously quicker, reacting two seconds too late when someone attacks his D, and making lazy passes that end up getting stolen. Maybe his errors were just magnified because most were committed in that awful third canto. No? Okay.
This hard-earned win may have felt good but it was definitely NOT a good game for the Blue Eagles. They were lucky that their short rotation managed to climb out of such massive hole (and that Tolomia bungled up those free throws).
Ateneo is now three Ws away from the championship crown. Ah, who would have thought? But do you remember when the Bulldogs was #1 after the eliminations last season but lost twice to UST in the semis?
The Eagles should take advantage of the long breather as they wait for the rest of the Final Four spots to get settled. It’s not going to be a walk in the park whether they end up facing NU whom they haven’t defeated in two years or UE who’s currently enjoying a four-game winning streak.
Featured image courtesy of Mark Cristino, Pinoy Exchange