MANILA, Philippines -- (UPDATED) Far Eastern University (FEU) overcame a poor start, and then made the big baskets down the stretch to register its biggest victory of the UAAP Season 81 tournament so far -- a 63-60 nailbiter over defending champion Ateneo de Manila University.
Down 18-3 in the opening frame and 32-22 at the half, the Tamaraws buckled down on defense in the second half to shackle Ateneo’s league-best offense. They also waxed hot from beyond the arc in the final quarter, with triples by Axel Inigo, Hubert Cani, and Brandey Bienes helping them build a cushion against the Blue Eagles.
The Tamaraws notched the victory despite the absence of high-scoring forward Arvin Tolentino, who was suspended for the game for his disqualifying foul in FEU’s 88-85 overtime win over Adamson University last Sunday.
“Hindi ko rin alam kung paano namin ginawa ‘yun eh,” said FEU coach Olsen Racela, whose team has now won three straight games after an embarrassing 90-65 loss to University of the East midway through the first round.
“Back-to-back kami against Adamson and Ateneo, and we played Ateneo without our top scorer (Tolentino). Kung ako tatanungin, hindi ko rin alam. I just want to give credit to my players.”
A brutal start saw the Tamaraws fall behind by double-digits almost immediately, but they showed their grit in the third quarter when they limited Ateneo -- the league’s best offensive team -- to a paltry seven points. That allowed them to enter the payoff period tied at 39.
“We put emphasis on the defensive end,” said Racela. “After ng 18 first-quarter points, the rest of the way, talagang nag-struggle sila.”
Back-to-back three-pointers by Inigo pushed FEU ahead, 45-41, and they stretched their lead to seven points, 53-47, off another triple by Wendel Comboy with 4:40 left.
The Tamaraws were in control, 58-51, with three minutes to go and got a further boost when Thirdy Ravena fouled out after being tagged with an unsportsmanlike foul.
But the Blue Eagles clawed their way back, thanks to a triple from Mike Nieto and a transition lay-up by Angelo Kouame.
A booming three-pointer by Hubert Cani made it 61-56 with 1:17 left, before Nieto connected on a bucket to again make it a three-point game, 61-58. Ateneo got a stop when the Tamaraws turned the ball over, but the Blue Eagles were unable to hold on to the ball and Richard Escoto scored to make it 63-58 with 29.2 seconds to go.
A putback by Kouame off a Nieto miss helped Ateneo stay alive, and the Blue Eagles got another chance when Cani turned the ball over with 14 seconds to go. But Adrian Wong’s triple at the horn hit the rim, giving the Tamaraws a stunning triumph to end the first round of the eliminations.
Cani finished with 12 points, 5 rebounds, and 6 assists, while Jasper Parker and Inigo each added 9 points. The Tamaraws escaped with the win despite committing 27 turnovers, which the Blue Eagles translated to 15 points.
Kouame had 16 points, 12 rebounds, and 4 blocks, but no other Ateneo player reached double-digits. They shot only 29.73% for the game, a poor clip for a squad that usually converts 39.8% of its shots. Ravena, saddled with foul trouble, had 8 points on 3-of-10 shooting, on top of 4 assists.
The Blue Eagles clearly missed the steadiness of starting point guard Matt Nieto, who played just seven minutes and sat out the entire second half after injuring his finger.
Both Ateneo and FEU now have identical 5-2 win-loss records, tied for second place.
FEU 63 – Cani 12, Parker 9, Inigo 9, Comboy 8, Orizu 8, Bienes 8, Stockton 5, Escoto 4, Ebona 0, Tuffin 0, Gonzales 0, Bayquin 0
ATENEO 60 – Kouame 16, Verano 8, Ravena 8, Nieto Mi 8, Asistio 6, Mamuyac 6, Mendoza 4, Go 2, Wong 2, Tio 0, Navarro 0, Belangel 0, Nieto Ma 0, Black 0
Quarter scores: 11-19, 22-32, 39-39, 63-60
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