Right after the game, Ateneo superstar Thirdy Ravena gifted rising University of Santo Tomas rookie standout Rhenz Abando with two pairs of pricey sneakers. That was the extent of the Blue Eagles’ charity Wednesday morning, as the unforgiving defending champions taught the upstart Tigers a neat lesson in endgame composure.
Displaying peerless poise, Ateneo deprived UST of a dream start to UAAP Season 82, squeezing out a 71-70 victory at Smart Araneta Coliseum for a third straight victory in the men’s basketball tournament.
For a coach that just hosted and endgame master class, though, a relieved Tab Baldwin was more focused on probing the match for lessons that will help his team’s quest for a three-peat.
“There’s a lot of learnings for us from this game,” said Baldwin. “This is going to make us, I believe, a lot better basketball team because [UST coach] Aldin [Ayo’s] team has a way of doing that because they have a way of finding your weaknesses.”
Composure, it seems, isn’t one of them.
Down seven in the fourth, the Eagles turned to their experience and stingy defense to claim the early solo lead. Ateneo trailed by three under four minutes remaining but held UST scoreless in the last 3:41, crafting stops that reduced the Tigers to tough, challenged shots and costly turnovers.
Meanwhile, Ravena added a fieldgoal and two free throws, Ange Kouame hit a key basket and Matt Nieto drained the cushion free throw as Ateneo took a 71-67 lead with less than four seconds to play.
UST dropped to 2-1 in a tie with Adamson, which leaned on Jerrick Ahanmisi’s big game to repulse University of the East, 91-80.
The Warriors dropped to 0-3, half a game below National University, which lost a second straight heartbreaker after Kurt Lojera knocked down a baseline jumper with 14.9 seconds to help La Salle survive the Bulldogs’ late uprising for an 83-82 triumph.
After opening its season with a defeat to Adamson via a three-pointer at the buzzer, National U failed to complete a Shaun Ildefonso-led rally from 16 points down, allowing the Archers to level their card at 1-1.
The Blue Eagles found a tough nut to crack in a UST team that has embraced Ayo’s system.
“You can talk about character and toughness, and you know, and pulling it out in the crunch and all of that, but I think that every [applause] that you give your team, the other team deserves exactly the same thing because that game could have gone either way,” said Baldwin.
Troubled by fouls early on, Ravena came alive in the second half and finished with 17 points and 10 boards. Kouame was immense on both ends of the floor again for the Eagles, finishing with 11 points and 10 rebounds despite also being hounded by foul woes for most of the game.
Soulemane Chabi Yo gave the Eagles fits with his versatility and inside presence as the Beninese center scattered a game-high 25 points and grabbed 13 boards.
Even in defeat, UST made people take notice of its status as a contender this season. And the Tigers served up some highlights of their own too, none flashier than Abando’s two-handed alley-oop dunk off a lob from Brent Paraiso.
Abando also walked off the game with a reason to smile after Ravena handed him two brand new pairs of basketball shoes, fulfilling a promise the Ateneo star made months ago when they crossed paths in a D-League game.
“After [that] game … Thirdy asked my shoe size and I only got [these only] now; maybe he was busy,” Abando said in Filipino with a laugh.
“It’s really inspiring playing against him because before you’re just watching him on TV and I want to really match up well with him. Now I know that he’s also a really nice person,” added Abando, who had nine points and five rebounds.
The head-turning rookie from La Union, who towed UST to huge wins over University of the East and University of the Philippines, could learn a thing or two after his matchup with Ravena as the Tigers hope to make him one of its centerpieces for a deep run this season.
At the very least, Abando could—literally—walk in Ravena’s shoes to figure things out as the season progresses.
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