Down by 21, Archers refuse to go quietly, force sudden death | Inquirer Sports
HEART of a CHAMPION

Down by 21, Archers refuse to go quietly, force sudden death

By: - Reporter / @cedelfptINQ
/ 05:20 AM November 30, 2017

Kib Montalbo. Photo by Tristan Tamayo/INQUIRER.net

Their title-retention bid on the verge of an epic collapse, La Salle skipper Kib Montalbo stood in front of Ateneo star Thirdy Ravena as he defended an inbound play late in the second period Wednesday at Smart Araneta Coliseum.

Twice, Ravena tried to throw off Montalbo with a bump, but the La Salle skipper refused to budge, as if to say he wasn’t giving up his spot on the floor.

There was little going for the Green Archers before the run that preceded that inbound play. In contrast, the Blue Eagles were flying, holding a 21-point lead and looking poised for a sweep. But Montalbo and the rest of the Archers weren’t going away just yet.

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What the Archers lacked in defensive intensity and shotmaking in a forgettable first quarter was wiped away by a relentless belief that they were built for these moments of adversity.

“What I wanted to show in that play was for us to believe and to want it more,” said Montalbo. “I think we needed that wake-up call.”

La Salle planted the seeds of one of the biggest comebacks in UAAP Finals history late in that second period and nurtured that on the way to a 92-83 victory that might have just swung the momentum in the way of the Archers heading into a winner-take-all showdown for the Season 80 crown on Sunday.

Ben Mbala, named MVP for the second straight season, before the start of the game, finished with 20 points and grabbed 16 rebounds, while staying away from foul trouble in the second half and Ricci Rivero returned with aplomb after a foul-plagued first half as the Archers completed a 30-point turnaround to even the series at one game apiece.

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As the Archers went on a tear in the second half, the Eagles, who started the game on a 32-15 burst, suddenly went cold as the defending champions regained control of a highly physical series.

“We were down by 20,” said Montalbo. “We wanted to take it inch by inch, possession by possession. Never give up. Execute and defend. As a captain of this team, it starts with me if we’re going to play tough.”

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The last two periods saw La Salle at its finest since the start of the season. Clogging the lane every time the Eagles reached the paint and closing out on shooters at the perimeter, the Archers played with urgency and tenacity, while getting points in transition.

“We’ve worked hard for 10 to 11 months,” Montalbo added. “We can’t just throw this away. We had to fight until the end.”

The Eagles appeared to be on their way to a sweep after taking a 49-28 advantage on Anton Asistio’s split from the foul line with 2:24 left in the second period. Worse, the foul that sent Asistio to the line was Rivero’s fourth—and he trudged back to the bench in tears.

But Mbala later zipped through the lane for a dunk to cut the lead, 34-51, triggering the Archers’ big run.

“We saw some of our players down, struggling,” said Mbala. “We kept grinding, we kept pushing. Coach (Aldin Ayo) told us to keep believing. I feel like we got used to games like this and we just have to stick together, stick to the game plan, and play defense.”

The Archers came out of the break with renewed vigor with Rivero hitting eight of his 18 points in the third period, while Montalbo scored on a couple of fast break layups. The Eagles, on the other hand, lost steam, outscored by their rivals, 26-8, in the period.

“We just didn’t stop working,” said Rivero. “That wasn’t the way I was supposed to play in the first half because we got overeager.”

With a comeback for the ages, La Salle likes its chances in the deciding game.

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“We should handle this victory very well,” said Montalbo. “Hopefully we ride this momentum for Game 3.”

TAGS: Ateneo, Kib Montalbo, La Salle, UAAP Finals

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