With its back against the wall, Ateneo de Manila University rose against adversity.
The Blue Eagles kept their four-peat hopes alive after escaping another furious University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons comeback, taking a 69-66 victory to force a Game Three in the UAAP Season 84 Men’s Basketball Tournament, Wednesday at the SM Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.
Angelo Kouame, who was hailed as the tournament Most Valuable Player early in the day, produced 14 points, 14 rebounds, and eight blocks — helping Ateneo overcome the stinging 81-74 overtime loss it received in Game One last Sunday.
“This finals series feels like that La Salle series. I think UP brings really, really high-quality basketball in this series,” said Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin. “The loss in game one, in a way it’s a blessing. We fail in life and I think our team, we looked at that as an opportunity to grow.”
Down 51-53 midway through the contest, the 21-year-old Cebuano, who was crowned as the league’s top rookie, buried a corner triple to give the Fighting Maroons their first taste of the lead.
However, it was the only time they were in front. Still, there were a lot of tense moments in the endgame.
Tied at 61-all after a Kouame split from the stripe, the 6-foot-11 naturalized Filipino cleaned up his own mess before throwing a jam.
Inexperience under the bright lights then got the better of the Fighting Maroons.
A UP turnover off a timeout led to an SJ Belangel breakaway. Later on, James Spencer did a lackadaisical pass that led to a Gian Mamuyac layup with 48.9 ticks remaining to put Ateneo up by six, 69-63.
It was over by there as Ateneo and UP head to a Game Three.
“I think game three is potentially an epic game,” hyped Baldwin about the first winner-take-all finals in the league since Season 80 will be played on Friday, May 13 at 6:00PM.
Tio, who was scoreless in Game One, finished with 14 points while Ildefonso, who only had six last Sunday, got 10 points and eight rebounds.
Mamuyac also flashed his brilliance with a line of seven points, two steals, two rebounds, two steals, and an assist while Joshua Lazaro and Raffy Verano gobbled down six rebounds apiece.
Meanwhile, Tamayo led UP with 18 points and 10 rebounds. Rivero also got 18 points but went just 7-of-19 from the field with five turnovers.
Malick Diouf supported Tamayo with 13 rebounds, eight points, and two blocks.
Zavier Lucero was held down to just eight points on eight attempts with three errors.
Ateneo 69 — Kouame 14, Tio 14, Ildefonso 10, Mamuyac 7, Belangel 6, Koon 6, Verano 4, Lazaro 3, Andrade 3, Chiu 2, Daves 0.
UP 66 — Tamayo 18, Rivero 16, Cagulangan 8, Lucero 8, Diouf 8, Alarcon 5, Spencer 3, Fortea 0, Abadiano 0, Lina 0.
Quarterscores: 17-16, 37-28, 49-45, 69-66.