Ikeh powers Eagles
In the same way a pumped-up Ateneo squad dominated Adamson, Blue Eagles big man Chiz Ikeh’s monster performance to start the UAAP Season 80 basketball tournament hardly came as a surprise last Saturday.
With the 6-foot-8 Ikeh throwing his weight around early, the Eagles launched their campaign in style, coasting to an 85-65 victory over the Falcons at Mall of Asia Arena.
Ikeh pumped in 18 points, including 14 in the first half, and grabbed 17 rebounds, while Thirdy Ravena scattered 20 points and collected 10 boards for the Eagles, who are entering the season with high expectations after a surprising run to the finals last year where they lost to rival La Salle.
“I guess, within the team, it wasn’t something new what Ikeh was doing in the game,” Ateneo coach Sandy Arespacohaga said. “We’re happy that Ikeh is able to play the way he’s been practicing. He’s been working hard.”
Ikeh patrolled the middle with authority, setting the tone for the Eagles’ dominance of the boards, 60-35.
Long in the shadow of standout foreign players like last season’s MVP, Ben Mbala of La Salle, and Adamson’s Papi Sarr, who missed the game due to an injured groin, Ikeh’s improved play could spell the difference in Ateneo’s chase for a first title since 2012.
“My teammates have been pushing me to be in the right place at the right time and they were able to find me,” said the Nigerian.
The Falcons trailed, 59-39, in the third period but came within nine points early in the fourth quarter before Matt Nieto, Jolo Mendoza and Ravena joined forces put Adamson away.
“We had that feeling of losing a championship with us for seven months or eight months,” said Ravena. “As time went by, we were feeling eager. But coach Tab (Baldwin) and the staff did a great job keeping us composed, always telling us that there’s always pressure. But when it comes, we need to be relaxed, have a clear state of mind for whenever you need to make decisions.”
Earlier, National U gave former San Beda mentor Jamike Jarin a winning start to his UAAP collegiate coaching career with an 86-69 drubbing of University of the East.
Dave Yu gave the Bulldogs a lift with 14 points in 16 minutes.
“It feels good that we won, but we have a lot of things to work on,” said Jarin. “There were a lot of mistakes, a lot of excitement. It’s always hard to play the opening. You don’t know what time the game will start. But we’re just very happy that we got the win on opening day.”
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