Defeat snatched from the Jaws of Victory
Ateneo 63 vs. La Salle 66
words by rick olivares photo by aaron vicencio
Since 2006, the Ateneo Blue Eagles have been mostly putting on the hurt on its foes with their brilliant endgame. This Season 73, the team has twice crumbled in the clutch.
So much for experience.
The game is just one of the many classic battles between the Blue Eagles and the La Salle Green Archers but it will be remembered not just for the outcome but the final and fateful six minutes.
The Blue Eagles had their foes on the ropes with a nine-point lead with 3:52 to play. In years past, this was when they were at their best – closing out the game.
Earlier, skipper Eric Salamat saluted the blue and white gallery after his first clear fastbreak finish of the game to give Ateneo a 62-53 lead. That was the end of a telling 15-5 run that was borne out of a double-pump buzzer beater from the three-point line by Kirk Long.
Yet in a shocking turnaround and uncharacteristic poor execution, the defending champions went from hitting their first eight shots to missing their final seven.
And that isn’t where the horror story ends, in between were a flurry of miscues – a pair of poor inbound plays, errant passes, poor ball handling, and badly missed shots.
And La Salle is the type of team to make teams pay for their sloppiness. Rookie Jarelan Tampus fielded two errant inbound boo boos and scored two quick baskets while point guard Joel Tolentino added two free throws to cut Ateneo’s lead 62-59.
Nico Salva, in the midst of a nightmarish game, added one free throw to give Ateneo some breathing room at 63-59 time down to 2:04. It would be the last point Ateneo would score for the day.
Samuel Marata, was 2-2 from three-point land. Good numbers on any day but not when he was continuously denied chances by the tight defense applied on him by Kirk Long and Ryan Buenafe. But Long had fouled out earlier when Tolentino made his free throws. With Buenafe on the bench and La Salle gaining more confidence, Marata pulled up on the three-point line to launch one.
Bang. He was 3-3. And La Salle was on the verge of completing an incredible comeback.
Another Blue Eagle miss, and this time with Buenafe back on the floor dead cold (he only played 15 minutes), the Green Archers ran a pair of screens for Marata on top of the key. Buenafe was a second late in getting a hand on Marata who had enough daylight to drop the hammer on Ateneo.
Simon Atkins added one free throw for a 66-63 lead and it left the Blue Eagles with a window to send it into overtime.
Ateneo had no choice but to go to the court of the last resort. But in a team bereft of deadeye three-point specialists (and Emman Monfort out on cramps) the Archers covered Eric Salamat, Juami Tiongson, and Bacon Austria. That left center Justin Chua – wide-open for a chance to tie it. He hit the right side of the rim and miraculously got the ball back. But his second shot was just as off.
The Green Archers ended their six-game slide to Ateneo and more importantly, climbed into solo second with a 3-1 slate behind undefeated FEU.
Heading into the match, the two teams were pretty much equal in statistics. It has been said time and again that when the two teams play, you can throw those stats out. But there were two particular stat lines that are worth pointing out.
The first was Ateneo’s atrocious percentage from three-point country. In their first three matches, they shot 15.9% (7-44) while La Salle shot. For the game, both squads hit five triples each but La Salle had the better percentage at 35.7% to Ateneo’s 29.4%.
The second stat that told volumes was in fastbreak points. Prior to the rivalry weekend match, Ateneo scored 14.3 fastbreak points per game. That’s not bad but it’s only good for second behind La Salle’s 15.0 per game.
In the first meeting between the two schools this year, La Salle stepped on the gas pedal and scored 16 fastbreak points while holding the Blue Eagles to a measly 5. They had done their homework as they jammed the outlet pass and quickly got back down on defense.
It was a painful loss for the Blue Eagles they had failed to close out what should have been a won game. The outcome also highlighted how the team is struggling to find consistency, dependable scorers, and defensive cohesiveness.
The team fell to an even 2-2 record alongside National University and UST. Although only four games have been played and in spite of UE and UP being 0-4, all the games have demonstrated that there are no automatic wins. Every team has go out on the court and win it.
But there are two sides to every coin. There are two positives. One is it looks like Ateneo has finally found its next big game center as Justin Chua scored 16 points, pulled down 8 boards, and more importantly was in the end game. He is starting to round out into his own and show why the recruiting class of 2008 (alongside Salva and Buenafe) should go down as one of the best in the school’s history. Had he made that triple to send the match into overtime (and assuming Ateneo would go on to win it), mayhap we lobby that one court in the college covered courts be renamed after him?
Yes the game ended with a loss and that’s where the second positive lies -- there are still 10 more games to play.
La Salle 66 – Webb 12, Marata 12, Atkins 9, Tampus 6, Andrada 6, dela Paz 5, Tolentino 5, Vosotros 3, Villanueva 2, Ferdinand 1, Paredes 0
Ateneo 63 – Chua 16, Monfort 11, Long 9, Buenafe 7, Salamat 6, Salva 5, Golla 3, Escueta 2, dela Cruz 2, Austria 2, Tiongson 0, Gonzaga 0