Led by a sweet-shooting Troy Rosario, the National University Bulldogs narrowly edged the previously undefeated Ateneo de Manila Blue Eagles, to deal the Katipunan-based squad their first defeat of the season, 64-60, at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay.
Rosario sank 17 big points for the Bulldogs, including crucial free-throw baskets in the dying moments of the ballgame to secure the Bulldogs’ third win and help the NU squad bounce back from a loss against defending champions De la Salle Green Archers on Wednesday.
The low-scoring affair saw tough defense played on both sides, with the two teams trading leads for most of the game despite faltering shooting. The Bulldogs would however pull away in the fourth quarter, after initiating a clamping defensive press on the Eagles that would result in Ateneo scorers Kiefer Ravena, Von Pessumal, and Chris Newsome going cold in the second half. A 6-0 run by the Bulldogs would give them a 49-43 edge to close out the third quarter. Spurred on by center Alfred Arroga, the Bulldogs registered their biggest lead since the early first quarter, 52-45 in the mid fourth quarter.
Led by rookie Arvin Tolentino, the Blue Eagles would slowly chip away at the Bulldogs’ lead. However the Bulldogs’ would capitalize from Ateneo fouling woes in the final minutes of the ballgame to pull away at 62-56 entering the final minute, Alfred Arroga and Nico Javelona sinking freethrow after freethow after drawing fouls from Ateneo players. Free-throws from Ravena and a basket from Von Pessumal in the final thrity seconds of regulation help bring the Eagles to a manageable to 60-63 hole with thirteen seconds remaining. However, another Ateneo foul during the following NU possession led to Troy Rosario to sink one of two free throws that sealed the win for the Bulldogs.
“Troy is a versatile player. He can defend threes(small forwards) and bigmen alike,” said NU coach Eric Altamirano about Troy Rosario, whose heroics gave NU their third win of the season. Rosario also contributed 8 rebounds , 2 assists and 1 steal, as well as helping in NU’s defensive press in his most outstanding performance of the season so far.
Jess Diputado had 10 points to help the NU cause, while Alfred Aroga had 9 points, 11 rebounds and a block. Glenn Khobuntin, who came alive in the crucial minutes of the ball game, had 8 points but bagged 16 big rebounds, along with 2 assists.
Rookie bigman Arvin Tolentino led Ateneo with 17 points and 9 boards, but failed to come alive in the final seconds of the last quarter. The Blue Eagles’ leading scorer Kiefer Ravena was held to 13 points after notching high-scoring performances in their three previous games, scoring only two points in the second half, both after being fouled at the 3-point line during a last-minute attempt to keep the Eagles’ hopes alive. Von Pessumal and Chris Newsome were held to 7 and 6 points respectively, after outstanding performances in Ateneo’s previous games.
Ateneo and NU are now currently at 3-1 in the Men’s Basketball Tournament standings. The Bulldogs will be facing the winless UP Fighting Maroons next week, while the Blue Eagles will be facing the Far Eastern University Tamaraws on Saturday August 3.