With their backs against the wall, the DLSU Green Archers forced a Game 3 after coming back from a 21-point deficit to stun the ADMU Blue Eagles, 92-83, earlier today at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
“I say we stick together. We saw some of our players down, struggling but we didn’t give up. We kept playing defense, we kept on pushing, coach kept on telling us to keep playing and to keep believing,” Mbala comments on his dunk which started the comeback.
After a subpar Game 1, Ben Mbala bounced back with 20 points, 16 rebounds, and four blocks. Ricci Rivero and Andrei Caracut added 18 and 13 points, respectively, in the victory. For Ateneo, Thirdy Ravena paced the team with 20 points, while Aaron Black added 15 points in just 13 minutes of play, off the bench.
Dismal first half
With the defending champions on the brink of elimination, Ri. Rivero quickly scored a lay-up 10 seconds into the game. Matt Nieto answered back with a floater and a fade-away jumper to give the Blue Eagles an early lead, 4-2, but Caracut made his first three-pointer of the series to give La Salle a one-point advantage at the 8:30 mark. The defending champions didn’t make another field goal until the 5:27 mark as the Blue Eagles’ defense started to click while unleashing a 17-2 run to erect a 21-7 lead with four minutes left to play in the quarter.
Mbala, Ravena, and Santi Santillian exchanged baskets but it was ADMU who gained momentum towards the end of the first quarter. The Blue Eagles got a massive lift from their bench players as Jolo Mendoza and Aaron Black combined to score ADMU’s last seven points as they distanced themselves from the Green Archers. Abu Tratter’s hustle in the last seven seconds of the period was rewarded as he went to the free throw line and gained two points to cut the deficit to 17, 32-15.
Ri. Rivero and Chibueze Ikeh each made a lay-up to open the second period for both teams but it was the steady play of the Blue Eagles in the first eight minutes of the quarter that enabled them to build a 21-point lead, their biggest of the half. Ravena constantly attacked the paint with relative ease while Ma. Nieto and Anton Asistio continued to make their shots from the perimeter. The Green-and-White struggled mightily on both ends of the floor as head coach Aldin Ayo experimented with various line-ups, hoping to snatch the momentum away from their archrivals.
Mbala’s electrifying alley-oop dunk at the 1:51 mark of the second period energized the Lasallians as their offense finally clicked with Aljun Melecio spearheading the scoring. The former Rookie of the Year scored six straight points while Mbala converted another putback to finish the half strong with a 10-0 run, trimming the deficit to nine, 51-42.
At halftime, Mbala led La Salle with 10 points while Ravena and Asistio paced the Blue Eagles as they scored 13 points each. The Green-and-White dominated the paint with 28 points, while the Blue Eagles settled with outside shots as they scored 28 perimeter points. The first 20 minutes of Game 2 only had one deadlock and three lead changes.
After trailing by as much as 21 points in the first half, La Salle just needed to retaliate to keep their season alive. A frustrated Ri. Rivero was benched midway through the second quarter due to a subpar performance. The athletic off-guard had four fouls and a number of turnovers which led to the huge Ateneo advantage. Moreover, nothing was clicking for La Salle until a late ten to nothing run helped them stay alive.
La Salle kept momentum up to the start of the third period wherein Kib Montalbo started off with back-to-back transition lay-ups. Isaac Go, on the other hand, converted a three-point play to bring their lead back up to nine. From then on, Montalbo, Caracut, and Santillan sparked a 9-0 scoring run to tie the game at 56 apiece. But it was a fast break lay-up by the MVP which finally gave the Lasallians the lead. DLSU stunned the Blue-and-White in the quarter with a 21-3 run in a span of six minutes. ADMU only scored through a put back from Go and a free throw from Tyler Tio in that span. La Salle led Ateneo, 68-59, by the end of the third period.
However, despite the stunning comeback by La Salle, its rivals from Katipunan kept close and trimmed the deficit to four through the efforts of Black. The slick guard kept ADMU in striking distance as he scored 11 points in the final frame, and shot six out of eight from the field.
Ri. Rivero, though, redeemed himself and scored 18 points as he shot 73 percent from the field. After the game, Ri. Rivero said, “Yung second half siguro, yun it wasn’t me who played, siguro it was God kasi the whole time na sa bench ako, I was praying lang.”
Another player who aided La Salle in their win was Andrei Caracut. The junior drained a couple of baskets from behind the arc and shot five out of six from the charity stripe as he contributed 13 points in the winning effort. The Lasallians completed their comeback in a collective effort as their lead ballooned to 11 points with only three minutes left of play.
As the final buzzer sounded, the Green-and-White forced a deciding game and kept their chance of achieving a back-to-back championship.
“Part of wanting it more, I think yung discipline on defense, we didn’t gamble more on the second half,” explained assistant coach Miggy Solitaria. “Buti na lang talaga we played with heart on the second half and the last two minutes of the second quarter.”
In the win, DLSU outscored ADMU, 54-30, inside the paint, but the Blue Eagles dominated the perimeter, with a 33-14 points advantage. Of note, La Salle improved to 9-0 in games play at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The Green Archers and Blue Eagles will face for the championship on Sunday, December 3, at the same venue.
DLSU 92- Mbala 20, Ri. Rivero 18, Caracut 13, Melecio 12, Montalbo 9, Santillan 8, P. Rivero 8, Tratter 4, Tero 0, Go 0, Baltazar 0
ADMU 83- Ravena 20, Black 15, Asistio 13, Go 11, Ma. Nieto 10, Ikeh 6, Mendoza 5, Tolentino 2, Tio 1, Verano 0, Mi. Nieto 0, Mamuyac 0, Porter 0
Quarter scores: 15-32, 42-51, 68-59, 92-83