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MANILA, Philippines – Ateneo kept its title defense alive after surviving a pressure-packed endgame.
The Blue Eagles snapped a two-game losing streak against the UP Fighting Maroons in Game 2 of the UAAP finals, 69-66, at the Mall of Asia Arena on Wednesday, May 11.
With the win, the Eagles now have a prime chance to preserve their dynasty and extend their title streak to a four-peat in a do-or-die Game 3 on Friday, May 13, at 6 pm, still at the MOA Arena.
Star center Ange Kouame, fresh off his first MVP award, proved exactly why he was the runaway pick with a near triple-double of 14 points, 14 rebounds, and 8 blocks, while graduating guard Tyler Tio saved his collegiate career with a 14-point spark in just 19 minutes off the bench.
Dave Ildefonso also bounced back from a 6-point, 6-turnover Game 1 outing with 10 points, 8 boards, 4 assists, and 2 steals.
“This series feels like a La Salle series. It doesn’t feel like college basketball. It feels like there’s something else at stake,” said Ateneo head coach Tab Baldwin after the nail-biting, season-saving win.
“Tonight, we responded and we did the job in key statistical categories. Everything else in the stat sheet looks good for us.”
Both teams traded leads until the last two, tension-filled minutes, when SJ Belangel made a crucial steal-and-score to put Ateneo up 4 points, 65-61, at the 2:03 mark.
The Eagles then shut the door on the Maroons’ comeback attempt after another swipe and a bucket with 48 ticks left, this time courtesy of graduating guard Gian Mamuyac.
Mythical Five member and Rookie of the Year Carl Tamayo led the way for UP with 18 points, 12 rebounds, 2 steals, and 1 block while graduating star Ricci Rivero added 16 points on 7-of-19 shooting plus 4 boards, 4 steals, and 1 block.
Reinforcement Malick Diouf also squeezed out 8 points and 13 rebounds in just 20 minutes of floor time in the loss.
UP had hoped to complete a series sweep against Ateneo as the Maroons bid for their first championship since 1986.
Off a 15-point deficit, 30-45, midway through the third quarter, UP once again rose from the dead with a huge 24-11 run bridging the latter two periods, capped by a huge Tamayo go-ahead triple for the Maroons’ first lead, 57-56, with 5:02 left in regulation.
Ateneo 69 – Kouame 14, Tio 14, Ildefonso 10, Mamuyac 7, Belangel 6, Koon 6, Verano 4, Lazaro 3, Andrade 3, Chiu 2, Daves 0.
UP 66 – Tamayo 18, Rivero 16, Cagulangan 8, Lucero 8, Diouf 8, Alarcon 5, Spencer 3, Fortea 0, Abadiano 0, Lina 0.
Quarters: 17-16, 37-28, 49-45, 69-66.