MANILA, Philippines – University of Santo Tomas got a harsh reminder Thursday that nothing ever comes easy against Ateneo.
The Growling Tigers were a game away from clinching its first PCCL title, and some sort of payback for the UAAP finals loss — but a 17-point lead by the Blue Eagles was what welcomed them in game two.
Jeric Teng, the squad’s star gunner who has been playing phenomenal in the PCCL, admitted that they were surprised.
“We were surprised. They really wanted this game and we were caught off guard,” Teng told INQUIRER.net after the 69-70 heartbreaker of a loss. “In the first half, all of their shots were falling in.”
Characteristically, UST managed to regroup and pull of a stunning comeback it is very familiar of — from an 11-28 disadvantage to a 59-57 edge with eight minutes left on the clock.
But in the end, it wasn’t actually the horrendous start that doomed the Tigers.
To start off was the departure of Cameroonian center Karim Abdul after a blocking foul on Greg Slaughter plus a technical for continuously complaining.
Even assistant coach Gabby Severino knows that Abdul’s fouling out with under five minutes to go was “big.”
And then it was that split second of confusion that ultimately proved costly.
With under 20 seconds to go and a 69-68 lead, UST had a chance to seal the victory but wasn’t able to make most of the possession. Kevin Ferrer, who received the ball off the inbound with a second left to shoot, threw up a shot that didn’t hit the rim.
The Growling Tigers stopped for a moment, anticipating a 24-second shotclock violation that didn’t come.
The Blue Eagles, with commendable presence of mind, pounced on that moment and Kiefer Ravena was left all alone for the game-clincher with 11.4 seconds to go.
Teng was convinced that it should’ve been a violation, “we thought na hindi talaga umabot. He fumbled the ball, then airball then rebound — hindi talaga aabot sa one second.”
But Teng and UST know that all they could do now is prepare for game three, and try to steal the championship away from Ateneo — for the second time this year.
“Ateneo’s really a strong team even without coach Norman. Coaches are really good. Siguro they’re our toughest opponent all throughout the year.
“Minimal nalang preparation namin eh, alam na namin isa’t isa,” Teng said.
A fitting ending to a budding rivalry, game three, is set exactly a week from now at the Ynares Sports Arena in Pasig City.