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Ateneo escapes feisty UP to stay in race for twice-to-beat

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The Ateneo de Manila University Blue Eagles bagged their ninth win of the season after narrowly escaping neighbours the University of the Philippines, 70-69, Wednesday at the Araneta Coliseum, in the second meeting between the two Katipunan-based schools.

After being fouled by Ateneo’s Chris Newsome near the three-point line, Mikee Reyes found himself with the chance to pull off one of the biggest upsets in the season, with a one-point deficit, two free-throws, and .8 seconds on the clock. However, Reyes would go on to miss both baskets, much to the relief of the Ateneo cheering gallery.

A low-scoring first half saw Ateneo manage to sink a dismal five of twenty-three from the field, with UP managing to put up seven of twenty-nine. League scoring leader Ravena was held to a mere field goal, with seven of his nine first half points coming from freethrows given up by the Maroons.

UP would get much needed help from Moralde in the first quarter. The former San Beda Red Lion scored all 11 of his points in the opening quarter alone. However, the Blue Eagles would close out the first quarter with the narrow 16-15 lead. The Maroons would be able to force Ateneo’s leading scorers to dismal shooting from the field, but in the process gave themselves up to early foul trouble. The Eagles would retain possession of the lead by halftime, 29-24, with nineteen points coming from freethrow baskets.

The third quarter would however open on a much different note, with both teams shifting their focus towards attacking the basket. Led by Thirdy Ravena and Giboy Babilonia, who scored eight apiece in the third quarter, the Ateneans would build a 42-31 lead with four minutes remaining on the clock. However, UP would respond in kind, with JR Gallarza and Mikee Reyes sinking basket after basket for the Maroons, cutting down the lead to 56-48 by the end of the quarter.

The Maroons would retain momentum heading into the fourth quarter, draining six straight points in the first two minutes to bring the score to 54-56. Consecutive baskets from UP’s Mikee Reyes would push UP to a 59-all draw with six minutes on the clock.

Ateneo would however pull together to hold the fort, with baskets from Newsome, Ravena, and the fresh-faced Clint Doliguez pushing Ateneo to a 70-66 lead entering the last two minutes. The Eagles would gain another chance to widen the gap, but failed to find the easy basket. With less than a minute remaining, Mikee Reyes, still hot from his fourth quarter rally, would drain another three-pointer to bring UP up to 69-70.

Ateneo would lose the chance to widen the gap, after an Arvin Tolentino offensive foul. UP’s Diego Dario would find himself with the ball, but would fail to score on the jumper with ten seconds remaining. Ateneo’s Ravena would bring down the board, get the foul, but would miss both free throws and the possibility of retaining the ball in spite of a stealthy rebound after being called for a free-throw violation. The next few seconds saw Reyes getting the inbound pass for UP, but failing to shoot the potential buzzerbeater after being fouled by Ateneo’s Chris Newsome. However, Reyes would be unable to deliver from the free-throw line missing both opportunities.

Kiefer Ravena led Ateneo with 18 points, 5 rebounds, and 7 assists, with Nico Elorde chipping-in 12 points and 5 boards. Mikee Reyes led the plucky UP Maroons squad with 19 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 assists. JR Gallarza, Diego Dario, and Dave Moralde also came up big for the Maroons, bagging 18, 13, and 11 respectively.

“This is a learning experience for me. This was one of the games we had to win. We have to be better,” said Ateneo head coach Bo Perasol at the post-game conference.

UP courtside reporter Gabby Dario meanwhile tweeted what UP coach Rey Madrid had to say about his boys: ” I’m so proud of the way the whole team played the whole game. It’s not about one guy. We never condemn anybody here.”

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