MANILA, Philippines -- Just when it seemed the game was about to slip away, Eric Salamat provided the offensive spark the Ateneo Blue Eagles needed in the final stretch.
Salamat knocked in key triples to lift the suddenly cold-shooting Eagles past the University of the East Warriors, 80-73, on Sunday, at the end of the first round of the 73rd UAAP men?s basketball eliminations at the Phil-Sports Arena.
The victory gave the Eagles a share of second at 5-2 with the Adamson Falcons, whose veterans also delivered in the clutch to nip the La Salle Green Archers, 70-68, in the opener.
?Some of these games you just to have to gut out,? said coach Norman Black of the Eagles, who are shooting for a third straight championship.
"We struggled the entire game offensively. Basically it was the two three-point shots of Eric that got us back in the game. It also lifted our spirits a bit, lifted our morale. He really came up big time for us."
Salamat matched his career-high of 23 points, including back-to-back triples that tied the game at 60 and kicked off an Ateneo run that also starred Kirk Long and Juami Tiongson in the final five minutes.
Ateneo and Adamson finished behind the Far Eastern U Tamaraws, who completed a seven-game sweep of the first round a day earlier.
Alex Nuyles nailed an undergoal stab with only 35 seconds remaining to give the Falcons a 69-68 lead and the Archers doomed their chances with a couple of turnovers in the dwindling seconds.
Jan Colina had 16 points and eight rebounds to lead the Falcons' comeback from as many as eight points, 44-52, late in the third quarter
Eric Camson buried 15 points, including a buffer free throw with 12.9 seconds left that set the final score. He added eight rebounds and two blocks.
"It was very evident that our defense prevailed over La Salle's offense," said Adamson coach Leo Austria. "We were able to stop their last few possessions."
The Falcons posted their best first-round record since the league implemented the Final Four format in 1994. Their previous best was at 3-3 in 2006, the year the Archers served a one-year suspension from the league.
La Salle slipped to fourth at 4-3, while UE, the 2009 finalist, wrapped up its first round with a woeful 1-6 card.
Long scored all his 10 points in the final period and Tiongson contributed back-to-back buckets that kept the Eagles ahead, 77-71, heading into the final minute.
Nico Salva and Justin Chua wound up with 13 points each for the Eagles, who rallied from a 51-57 deficit at the start of the fourth quarter.
"We've never had easy games against UE," said Black. "I know they've been struggling this year, but it doesn't mean they're not going to play well. Defensively, we're a little bit off. They were able to hit their outside shots, which really threw us off defensively."
Lester Alvarez drilled seven straight points, capped by a triple in a decisive tear that pushed the Falcons within 63-64.
Two more Camson baskets kept the Falcons afloat, 67-66, before Joel Tolentino gave the Archers their last taste of the lead, 68-67, at the 1:22 mark.
Alvarez finished with 12 points and seven assists, while William Stinnett added 10 markers.
ADAMSON 70-- Colina 16, Camson 15, Alvarez 12, Stinnett 10, Nuyles 7, Galinato 5, Cañada 3, Lozada 2, Manyara 0, Etrone 0, Brondial 0, Cabrera 0.
LA SALLE 68--Dela Paz 13, Webb 10, Tolentino 10, Marata 10, Mendoza 8, Andrada 8, Atkins 3, Tampus 2, Paredes 2, Villanueva 2, Vosotros 0, Elorde 0, Ferdinand 0.
ATENEO 80--Salamat 23, Salva 13, Chua 13, Long 10, Dela Cruz 6, Monfort 6, Tiongson 4, Austria 3, Gonzaga 2, Escueta 0, Erram, 0 Golla 0, Buenafe 0.
UE 73--Lee 16, Acibar 14, Razon 11, Reyes 11, Martinez 8, Zamar 6, Rosopa 4, Tagarda 3, Enguio 0.
Quarters: 19-17, 36-37, 51-57, 80-73