After a tightly-contested match, the DLSU Green Archers dropped Game 1 of their best-of-three finals matchup with the ADMU Blue Eagles, 76-70, earlier today at the Mall of Asia Arena. La Salle was able to overcome a big, early deficit but the Blue Eagles were able to storm back late and claim a key victory.
After the game, Abu Tratter said, “Nobody said it was gonna be easy, especially coming from a championship last year, it’s gonna be harder.”
Aljun Melecio led the way for DLSU with 24 points but Ateneo’s defense was able to hold Ben Mbala to just eight points in the loss. On the other side, Thirdy Ravena led ADMU with 12 points and six rebounds, while the Nieto twins added 11 points apiece in the victory.
Rigorous first half
Ma. Nieto opened the first game of the finals series with a lay-up to give Ateneo its first two points. Afterwards, as early as the 8:52 mark, the top two teams began trading baskets as both looked to outrun the other. Green Archers Santi Santillan and Melecio combined for successive points with a slam dunk and spin lay-up, respectively. Although, at the 6:59 mark, the team from Katipunan commenced an 8-0 run, consisting of consecutive converted shots from Ravena, Chibueze Ikeh, Vince Tolentino, and Ma. Nieto.
Melecio ignited the spark the team needed with a three-point jumper as Mbala followed up with a jump shot for the Green-and-White. Verano and Black then combined for consecutive successful free throws. Subsequently, the former converted a free throw as the latter scored from a three-point jumper and lay-up. Despite the efforts of DLSU, ADMU secured the first period, 26-14. At the end of the first quarter, Ateneo was evidently the more aggressive team as they outnumbered La Salle in bench points, 10-1, and rebounds, 14-8.
Similar to the first period of the ball game, the two teams traded points throughout the second canto. P. Rivero, Mbala, and Tratter paced La Salle, scoring off of collective putbacks and jumpers. Ma. Nieto, Tolentino, and Ravena had their own share of points for the Blue Eagles, converting jumpers and free throws.
At the 6:49 mark, both teams began being called out for a series of personal and unsportsmanlike fouls. Ikeh and Mbala also received a double technical foul for taunting. As Melecio was called out for an unsportsmanlike foul, Asistio successfully converted his free throws. Tension was raised anew as Ma. Nieto was charged with a blocking foul with 1:23 remaining in the first half that left him bloodied on the floor after receiving an Mbala elbow. In the closing moments of the second period, Justine Baltazar continued to score through a putback and a floater to trim Ateneo’s lead to, 43-39.
At the end of the rigorous first half, DLSU narrowly won the rebounding battle, 23-21. Also, both teams struggled at the free throw line, wherein ADMU had 24 attempts as compared to DLSU’s eight.
Close second half
La Salle kept in close striking distance throughout the succeeding half. However, Ateneo’s defense and a much needed basket from Isaac Go at the end of the game sealed the deal for the Blue Eagles.
ADMU continued to penetrate the defense and sparked a five to nothing run in the opening minutes of the half through the efforts of Ravena, Ma. Nieto, and Ikeh. Ri. Rivero and Melecio, however, responded to the scoring-run and went on to cut the deficit to three points despite the back-to-back threes by Asistio. La Salle’s backcourt duo made highlights in the process with Ri. Rivero hitting a fastbreak slam and Melecio draining a three-pointer. A three-pointer, though, by Santillan tied the game at 54 apiece. But what gave La Salle the lead was a behind the back lay-up by Montalbo in transition and free throw. Despite the shift of momentum, the Blue Eagles retaliated behind a couple of lay-ups from the Nieto siblings to end the quarter above La Salle, 58-60.
The final period displayed determination from two teams who were eager to close out each other. However, it was the team from Katipunan who came out triumphant in the end. ADMU and La Salle traded basket after basket until a lay-up by Raffy Verano gave Ateneo a five-point lead with only 4:15 left. Melecio, however, continued to play efficiently as he reduced the deficit to a single point by making a basket in transition and draining a well-defended turnaround jumper. The Green-and-White missed their chance to tie the game after another putback by Ravena off an Asistio miss gave ADMU a three-point lead. Finally, a three-point play from Go off a slick pass by Ravena left the Blue-and-White one game away from dethroning the Green Archers.
Both teams had foul trouble which limited Mbala to only eight points despite grabbing 12 rebounds. Furthermore, Ateneo outrebounded La Salle with a total of 20 offensive rebounds compared to only 13 from La Salle. Those second-chance opportunities were a huge factor in the ADMU win.
With their backs against the wall, Tratter remains confident, “So my thoughts on the game, we’re gonna roll with the punches and we’re gonna get them in three.”
The Green Archers will look to bounce back against the Ateneo Blue Eagles this Wednesday, at 4pm in the Smart Araneta Coliseum. A win will force a do-or-die Game 3, while a loss will result in an Ateneo championship.
DLSU 70- Melecio 24, Ri. Rivero 10, Mbala 8, Tratter 7, Santillan 7, P. Rivero 7, Baltazar 4, Montalbo 3, Caracut 0, Go 0, Tero 0, Paraiso 0
ADMU 76- Ravena 12, Ma. Nieto 11, Mi. Nieto 11, Asistio 10, Tolentino 9, Black 7, Verano 5, Go 5, Ikeh 4, Tio 2, Mamuyac 0, Mendoza 0, Porter 0
Quarter scores: 14-26, 39-43, 58-60, 70-76