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National U escapes late Ateneo comeback to force do-or-die match

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For the third time this season, the National University Bulldogs stun the first-seeded Ateneo de Manila University Blue Eagles, escaping a late fourth quarter rally to close out the game with a 78-74 victory to force a do-or-die matchup.

The Bulldogs would open the quarter with hot scoring, quickly building an 8-2 lead in the first three and a half minutes. Veteran Glenn Khobuntin would lead the NU opening salvo, scoring 8 of his 12 points in the quarter. The Bulldogs would also manage to hold Ateneo leading scorer and elimination round MVP Kiefer Ravena to a mere point in the quarter. At the end of the first, NU would lead Ateneo, 24-14.

With Jay Alejandro dropping three after three in the second quarter, the NU lead would balloon to as much as fifteen points, 36-21, midway through the quarter. Kiefer Ravena would manage to get his first two field goals of the game to spur the Ateneo cause, rallying the Eagles to trim the lead to seven points, 37-30, with four minutes left on the clock. However, Jay Alejandro and Gelo Alolino would hold the fort for NU, leading the Bulldogs to stay in possession of the lead 44-32, entering halftime.

Despite a resurgent Blue Eagle squad led by Ravena and Nico Elorde, the Bulldogs would maintain the steady lead over Ateneo. The Blue Eagles would manage to keep the lead to single digits for most of the quarter, finding ways around the Bulldogs’ defensive chokehold. After ten physicals minutes of basketball that saw hard fouls, squabbles, hot heads, and a visibly frustrated Ateneo squad, a breakaway jumper from Gelo Alolino would give back the Bulldogs’ double digit lead, 60-50, entering the final period.

Another barrage of baskets from Gelo Alolino would manage to extend the lead to 66-53 in the opening minutes. However, the Blue Eagles would finally find their touch, finally finding a way to topple the Bulldogs’ defense. After a series of painful misses, Kiefer Ravena would finally sink the big one for Ateneo to cut the lead to seven points, 68-61, approaching the final three minutes of the quarter.

Two free-throw baskets from Chris Newsome would cut the lead to a manageable five points, 68-63 within the next minute. Newsome would continue to come big for Blue Eagles, sinking a couple of baskets to trim the lead to three points, 69-66, 2:08 left on the clock.

A breakaway three from Ravena would cut the lead to 70-69, with a minute and a half left on the clock. A split free throw from NU’s Joel Betayene would add a point to the NU cause, but Nico Elorde would fire back by sinking a triple, to give the Blue Eagles their first taste of the lead, 71-69.

The next few plays however would see Ravena give up a couple of fouls to the sweet-shooting tandem of Alejandro and Alolino. The Bulldogs would find themselves with the lead once more, 77-74, with 22.5 on the clock. Ravena would have the chance to equalize, but would miss on the three-point attempt. After being fouled by Arvin Tolentino, NU’s Betayene would manage to seal the win by splitting his free-throw opportunity. The mammoth NU crowd would burst into celebration following the final buzzer.

Jay Alejandro led the Bulldogs with 20 points. Gelo Alolino had 16 points, Glenn Khobuntin 12, and Alfred Arroga had 11. Kiefer Ravena led Ateneo wih 24 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 assists, but shot a dismal 9-of-35 from the field. Chris Newsome and Nico Elorde contributed 14 and 12 respectively.

“The team showed a lot of character. Told them to play with no fear and no regrets,” said NU coach Eric Altamirano. “I have to give it to Jay (Alejandro). He was focused today, mentally and physically.”

“Ateneo is a very smart team. We have to make adjustments. We do what we have to do.”

“Wala naman kaming maipagmamalaki kung hindi ang defense namin. Bonus nalang yung maka-score.”

This is the Bulldogs’s fifth straight victory over the Blue Eagles, dating back from last season. The second match-up series will be held next Wednesday.

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