La Salle dodges the bullet, extends UAAP finals series to Game 3

MANILA, Philippines - Top-seeded Ateneo De Manila University (ADMU) Blue Eagles blew a 21-point lead but unfortunately handed down Game 2 to De La Salle University (DLSU) Green Archers, 92-83 in the Season 80 UAAP men's basketball finals on Wednesday, November 29, 2017 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

Ben Mbala after the Game 1 debacle, vowed to be more explosive in Game 2
True to his words, Ben Mbala after the Game 1 debacle, vowed to be more explosive in Game 2. The 2-time MVP fulfilled his promise and led La Salle’s comeback win against Ateneo. Photo Credit:

Gunning for their 9th title since joining the prestigious collegiate league in the country, the Blue Eagles with a 1-0 series advantage tried to finish off their greatest rivals, the Green Archers today. But the men in green aimed to repulse their arch-nemesis to force a rubber match on Sunday.

Both teams traded baskets as early as the first few seconds of the game. Both had quick triples but it was Ateneo who had the slight edge as the 5-minute mark of the opening period approached, 13-5 and all starters had made a bucket at least.

La Salle’s agile wing-man, Ricci Rivero hit the foul trouble too early and prompted Coach Aldin Ayo to send him back to bench to preserve his remaining personal fouls for the rest of the game.

Anton Asistio lighted it up from the outside to widen the Ateneo-gap to a dozen that panicked Coach Ayo and called a mandatory timeout.

Ayo’s timeout didn’t do his team any good. It was a double black-eye for the sophomore coach as his ace player and MVP Ben Mbala got into foul trouble as well after the ceasefire.

ADMU was in total control after the first 10 minutes of the opener, 32-15.

La Salle slowly getting back on track at the start of the 2nd period. Kib Montalbo and Ricci Rivero led the way while Ben Mbala wasn’t able to keep it up in terms of scoring.

Despite La Salle’s early 5-0 run, Ateneo fired back with their own scoring blast and posted the biggest lead of the game of 21 points, 45-24 with 5:30 remaining in the half.

With 3:21 minutes left in the 2nd quarter, La Salle’s Ricci Rivero committed his 4th personal foul and once again relegated to the sidelines.

Green Archers made another excellent run led by Aljun Melecio and Ben Mbala who rocked the rim with a monster alley-oop jam. The once 21-point lead was abruptly cut to just 9 in less than 3 minutes. The Blue Eagles however were still in favor after the first half, 51-42 spearheaded by Thirdy Ravena who led all scorers with 13.

After La Salle’s 12-0 blitz, Ateneo finally made a most-needed basket courtesy of Chibueze Ikeh at the beginning of the third.

DLSU intensified its defense that resulted to a superb comeback. The Archers were able to trim Ateneo’s lead to just 6 from as high as 21 and they did it without the aid of Ricci Rivero who was nursing his 4th personal fouls.

All of a sudden, Ateneo’s hot shooting hands gone ice cold as the Eagles allowed a 24-5 scoring surge by La Salle. The Archers were totally back in the game as they snatched the lead from the Eagles with over 2 minutes remaining in the 3rd quarter.

La Salle turned the momentum to its side and ended the penultimate period with a 68-59 lead.

Ateneo tried to regain the lead in the final quarter. But every time the Eagles scored, the Archers retaliated to stop Coach Tab Baldwin’s boys in re-taking the advantage that could cost them this game.

Aaron Black was the only Eagle who thrived to level the score with 5 more minutes remaining in the game. Black single-handedly poured 10 points to get closer to La Salle. His three pointer cut the lead to just 4, 74-70.

Ateneo’s Assistant Coach Gene Afable was whistled for a technical foul for continuous complaining. Some of the fans didn’t like the call and they started yelling “luto! luto!” and bottles and coins were thrown at the court.

In spite of the efforts exerted by Aaron Black who had 11 points in 4th quarter alone, De La Salle still managed to take care of its lead and closed out game number 2 with an unbelievable comeback win, 92-83 for the series equalizer.

Do-or-die game will be on Sunday, December 3 at 4 p.m. at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

— Joey Boy Capos, The Summit Express

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