University of Santo Tomas kicked off what looked like a day of upsets. University of the Philippines seemed in on the ploy but defending champion Ateneo just would have none of it.
The Blue Eagles tore away at the start of the third period and held off the Fighting Maroons the rest of the way for an 83-73 victory Wednesday in the UAAP men’s basketball tournament at Smart Araneta Coliseum.
“I’m happy with the fight we had inside of us today and that was more evident than the game against Adamson,” said Ateneo head coach Tab Baldwin, whose wards were coming off an upset loss to the Falcons in their opening assignment. “Our intensity today was a reflection of the team but the execution is still lacking. But I’m now more confident as we (play in) the UAAP even more. Our execution will be better.”
The Tigers, meanwhile, notched their first win in the Aldin Ayo era after surviving Far Eastern University, 76-74, in the other game.
The Growling Tigers upset the favored Tamaraws to bounce back after losing their opener against National University, 75-70.
Rookie Ken Zamora hit the biggest shot of the game to give UST a 76-71 lead with just 18.5 seconds remaining after he beat the shot clock with a driving layup.
Although Hubert Cani made a three-pointer with 10.5 seconds left and Marvin Lee committed what seemed like a costly turnover, the Growling Tigers managed to calm down and pull off a defensive stop, forcing Arvin Tolentino to miss his potential winner from beyond the arc.
An emotional Ayo said it may have been just one game but it was a way for the Growling Tigers to give back to the Thomasian community, which trusted him with the head coaching job.
“UST deserves this because I felt [former UST] coach Boy [Sablan], I felt the community and they deserve this,” said a teary Ayo in Filipino. “They gave us this immense support.”
“Although I was in a different team last year, I took this job because I felt the community and lots of my friends are there,” added Ayo.
Henri Subido led UST with 18 points.
“Aldin Ayo-coached teams really work hard; for them it’s all about putting in the effort because of their press,” said FEU coach Olsen Racela. “The way they attack the basket, the way they get offensive rebounds, we had so many defensive breakdowns because of UST’s penetration.”
Ateneo already held a 67-58 lead heading into the fourth quarter, but UP persistently chipped at the margin and got as close as five points, 75-70, after Juan Gomez De Liaño’s three capped an 8-0 run at the 5:15 mark.
Interestingly enough, the Fighting Maroons’ run came after head coach Bo Perasol was ejected at the 6:56 mark after he charged at an official.
The Blue Eagles, though, weathered the storm with a timely scoring sprint, most of which came from the stripe.
Thirdy Ravena made two charities for Ateneo’s 81-73 lead with 3:21 left in the game before Anton Asistio made it a 10-point game, 83-73.
Ravena managed 17 points and 11 rebounds to lead the Blue Eagles while Asistio contributed huge with 16 points on 4-of-5 shooting from deep.
Angelo Kouma missed out on a double-double for Ateneo finishing with 14 points and nine boards and threw in five blocks for good measure.
Gomez De Liaño had 29 points and six rebounds to lead the Fighting Maroons, who started their season with an 87-58 win over University of the East.
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