|Ateneo's Juami Tiongson goes up for a shot against the defense of UST's Aljon Mariano in Game 1 of the UAAP Season 75 Finals Saturday at the Mall of Asia Arena. The Blue Eagles won, 83-78, to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three series. Photo by Mark Cristino for ABS-CBNnews.com.
MANILA, Philippines – For most of the Ateneo Blue Eagles' campaign in the UAAP Season 75, the spotlight has been on either their big man Greg Slaughter, sophomore playmaker Kiefer Ravena or veteran forward Nico Salva.
They are the Blue Eagles' top scorers, and while it was only Slaughter who made it to this season's Mythical Five, all three players have proved that they are more than capable of leading the four-time defending champions to victory.
In Game 1 of the UAAP Season 75 Finals, Salva came through with a big-time performance, firing a career-high 30 points to lead the Eagles to an 83-78 victory against the University of Sto. Tomas (UST) Growling Tigers.
Ravena also came up with an all-around game of 13 points, seven rebounds and five assists and was instrumental in Ateneo's comeback in the second half.
But Slaughter struggled throughout Game 1 with UST's double- and triple-teams, and it was Ateneo's less celebrated players who helped Salva and Ravena pick up the slack on the offensive end.
Juami Tiongson and Ryan Buenafe, two of the Blue Eagles' unheralded veterans, both came up with clutch baskets in the fourth quarter. The two players combined to put together a 10-2 exchange that put the Blue Eagles ahead, 81-72, with just over a minute remaining.
In the run, Buenafe came up with a rare four-point play, while Tiongson scored on consecutive circus shots.
"Juami struggled a little bit in the first half, with his decision-making," Black said of Tiongson, who is in his first year as a full starter after coming off the bench for most of his career. "But in the second half, we tried to run him off more screens and we tried to alternate him with Kiefer Ravena so we would not be so predictable."
"Juami has been doing it for us the entire year. He's been coming up with big plays for us and big shots," he added. "If you think back to the beginning of the year, with us losing Emman Monfort, that was one position that was really a question mark coming into the season."
"But I think Juami has really stepped up and played well for us, and that’s made a big difference."
Buenafe, the Finals MVP in Season 73, has made it a habit to come up with clutch plays this season and is creating a reputation as feared crunch time player. But Black pointed out that Buenafe has been a "money player" ever since his high school years as a San Sebastian Staglet.
"Ryan has done it over and over again. He's a money player. He's a player who comes up big when the game is on the line," Black said. "The good thing about Ryan is, he not only makes plays for himself, he makes plays for other people."
"He's a very, very unselfish players. He's a creator out there, a facilitator," he added. "He's just a big-time player. He’s always been a big time player, even in high school."
Aside from Buenafe and Tionson, reserve center Justin Chua also played valuable minutes, scoring nine points off the bench to help spell Slaughter.