Kiefer Ravena (15) goes for the basket to lead Ateneo against the UE Red Warriors in the UAAP Season 76 men's basketball tournament on Sunday at the Mall of Asia Arena. Photo by Mark Cristino for ABS-CBNnews.com
In a crucial battle Sunday at the Mall of Asia Arena, the Blue Eagles made the necessary adjustments in the second half as they overcame the absence of head coach Bo Perasol, who was serving a one-game suspension.
"Our adjustments were mainly on the defensive end," said assistant coach Sandy Arespacochaga, who called the shots for Ateneo. "We gave up too many points in the first half, and we talked about playing better defense, especially on Roi Sumang."
UE guard Sumang put on a show in the first half, scoring 20 points on a variety of difficult jumpers, even while being defended well by Ateneo's Chris Newsome and Nico Elorde.
Ateneo also struggled to get into an offensive rhythm, shooting only 26.7% in the first half. The Red Warriors entered halftime leading by 10, 44-34, after Sumang drilled a buzzer-beating jumper in Newsome's face.
"I guess maybe, may halong gigil 'yung first half," Arespacochaga acknowledged. "That's why we weren't able to execute our defensive game plan. But in the second half, the players stepped up on defense and they were able to follow the defensive game plan."
Kiefer Ravena, who struggled in the first half with only nine points, came alive in the third period as he and backcourt mate Juami Tiongson sparked a 12-0 run early in the third quarter that allowed the Blue Eagles to tie the game at 46-all.
A lay-up by Tiongson moments later gave Ateneo their first lead of the game, 48-47, and the two squads would exchange leads for the rest of the quarter as UE got contributions from Sumang and back-up guards Gino Jumao-as and Dan Alberto.
Ateneo took the lead for good with 1:14 to go in the third period when Ravena scored on a fastbreak bucket, and they would go on to lead by as much as 10 points, 72-62, with 4:40 to go in the game after another transition lay-up by Ravena.
With Sumang shackled, it was Jumao-as who provided the aggression for UE as he repeatedly fished for fouls from the Ateneo players. He would go 5-of-6 from the line, and a lay-up from JM Noble allowed UE to cut into the lead, 69-72, with a little over two minutes to go.
It was Ravena who ended the UE run, scoring on a baseline lay-up off a no-look pass from Newsome to make it 74-69 with 1:17 to go. The Red Warriors' chances of coming back were then dented as Sumang went down due to cramps, and had to be helped back to the bench.
UE's Roi Sumang exits from the game due to cramps. Photo by Mark Cristino for ABS-CBNnews.com
JR Sumido's lay-up cut the lead to three, but the Blue Eagles were able to ice the game from the free-throw line for their seventh win of the season.
Ateneo is now tied with the University of Santo Tomas for a share of fourth in the league standings with identical 7-5 records.
"We're focusing on one game at a time," Arespacochaga said. "We need to focus on our next opponent, which is NU. That's gonna be our main focus."
The Red Warriors, who were one of the pre-season favorites to compete for the UAAP title, are now eliminated from Final Four contention with their 5-7 record.
Sumang finished with 27 points, while Charles Mammie had 11 points and 17 rebounds. Jumao-as and Alberto both scored 10 points for the Red Warriors, who were also without guard Ralf Olivares due to a suspension.
Meanwhile, Ravena finished with a team-high 22 points, while Newsome finished with 19 points and eight rebounds. Ryan Buenafe scored nine points and grabbed 11 boards, as the Blue Eagles surprisingly out-rebounded UE, 48-43.
After shooting only 26.7% in the first half, Ateneo wounded up with a 39.1% clip from the field. UE, meanwhile, struggled in the second half to finish with a 36.2% mark.
ATENEO 77 - Ravena 22, Newsome 19, Buenafe 9, Elorde 7, Tiongson 6, Pessumal 5, Erram 5, Golla 4, Tolentino 0, Enriquez 0
UE 72 - Sumang 27, Mammie 11, Jumao-as 10, Alberto 10, Noble 5, Santos 4, Sumido 2, Hernandez 2, Javier 1, Olayon 0, Pujante 0, Flores 0, Casajeros 0
Quarter-scoring: 14-16, 34-44, 56-55, 77-71