No overtime this time, but still no shortage of drama. After Chris Newsome did most of the heavy lifting, Kiefer Ravena took over and led the Ateneo de Manila University Blue Eagles over the University of the East Red Warriors, 78-73. In a game that featured 10 lead changes and 4 ties, Newsome kept Ateneo in the hunt with his game-high 23 points and 6 rebounds. However, the Blue Eagles’ clutch-shooting Kiefer Ravena rewrote the headlines with 9 fourth quarter points, none bigger than a pull-up three to extend Ateneo’s lead to 4 with less than 30 seconds to play. UE’s mammoth Charles Mammie continued his torrid run of form with 15 points and 18 boards, 11 on the offensive end. Unfortunately for the Red Warriors, Mammie’s contributions were erased by UE’s season-long inability to take care of possession, as the butter-fingered Warriors turned the ball over 25 times in the game. The Blue Eagles shrug off the defeat to arch-nemesis La Salle and remain atop the standings at 7-2, while the 4-5 Red Warriors miss a critical opportunity to close within a game of the final playoff spot.
The first quarter was truly a first for both teams. The Red Warriors, despite their record, had never actually been behind after 10 minutes of play, but found themselves in an early hole against the notoriously slow-starting Blue Eagles. Chris Newsome, excellent throughout the match, imposed himself immediately, drawing 7 points primarily from 7 free-throw attempts. Ateneo was unable to capitalize on Newsome’s success though, as the rest of the team combined for 4/15 shooting and zero trips to the charity stripe. As such, the Charles Mammie-led Red Warriors stayed in striking range of the Eagles as the quarter ended, 15-11.
The UE starters would continue to struggle in the second half, but a strong performance from their reserves allowed them to trim Ateneo’s lead heading into the half. With Roi Sumang misfiring in the first half, back-up point guard Dan Alberto put in quality minutes for the Warriors, combining with fellow sub Ronnie De Leon for 9 2nd period points. Unfortunately for the loud UE cheering gallery, the Red Warriors second stringers still had no answer for Chris Newsome. He and the relatively unheralded Ateneo starters Nico Elorde and Ponso Gotladera kept UE at arm’s length, and allowed the Blue Eagles to head into the lockers up 35-32.
Roi Sumang would regain his mojo in the third stanza, chipping in 5 points as UE tried to whittle down Ateneo’s precarious lead. The Eagles leaned on a balanced attack, highlighted by marksman Von Pessumal’s 5 points, to maintain their advantage. The UE fans grew frustrated at the refereeing on display in the second half, as multiple scoring spurts by the Warriors would come undone by whistles. In particular, King Eagle Kiefer Ravena’s theatrics would rile the crowd, as mocking chants of “One Big Flop” serenaded the league leader in free-throws attempted, who, ironically, had no attempts from the free-throw line at that point in the game. In any event, the Warriors comeback would be stymied by Ateneo, and the Eagles held a 51-54 cushion entering the decisive canto.
Karma bit the Warriors’ fans in the behind in the final period, as Ravena yet again rose to the occasion. Kiefer Ravena came alive in the fourth, drawing foul after foul on a rapidly discombobulating UE defence. UE’s own superstar Sumang would throw in 5 points of his own to keep the Warriors from deflating, but with Ravena on the hardwood, there really looked to be only one outcome. With the two teams swapping leads like trading cards, Ravena stepped up to decisively hand the Eagles the lead. With Ateneo holding a razor-thin 73-72 lead, the odds-on MVP favourite raced down the court before elevating for a rainbow-arcing three. As has been the case this entire season, he sank the shot, and all of UE’s hopes with it.