MANILA, Philippines – The Ateneo Blue Eagles once again flexed their feared third-quarter form and handed the FEU Tamaraws a stunning 71-65 loss from 19 points down to clinch at least a UAAP Season 85 playoff for a Final Four spot at the Mall of Asia Arena on Sunday, November 20.
Ange Kouame dominated both ends of the floor with a game-high double-double of 20 points and 14 rebounds with 3 assists and 1 block, while Forthsky Padrigao scattered 13 points, 6 dimes, and 5 boards.
Dave Ildefonso added 8 points and 9 boards in the win that tied Ateneo with NU with identical 8-3 records.
From down 19, 20-39, late in the second quarter thanks to a Xyrus Torres-fueled 18-3 run, Ateneo remained down 18, 36-54, midway through the third before it found its groove with a 13-0 blitz to end the frame just down 5, 49-54.
The rallying Eagles peaked their scoring swing at 20-1 off a go-ahead Paul Garcia triple at the 8:36 mark, 56-55, and kept it close deep in the clutch with two Kouame free throws to break a late tie, 67-65.
The Tamaraws had multiple chances to tie or take back the lead, but their option to hoist long bombs three consecutive times instead of looking for an easier two backfired as they drew blanks, leading to a game-winning pair of Padrigao free throws with 14.2 ticks left, 69-65.
“To be perfectly honest, that win was just heart and some decent execution in the fourth quarter, but up until then, we were pretty bad, really, in most aspects of the game,” Ateneo head coach Tab Baldwin said after the game.
“Second half of the third quarter, our defense finally dug in and shut them down, but it looked like they were the much better-prepared team.”
Torres led the early three-point barrage with 19 points on a 5-of-15 clip from deep in just 22 minutes, while LJay Gonzales added 15 points, 4 rebounds, and 2 assists in the loss that put FEU back down to seventh place with a 4-8 record.
Ateneo has a shot to formally clinch its Final Four berth with a win on Wednesday, November 23, 4:30 pm, against another Final Four seeker in the UE Red Warriors, while FEU tries to bounce back at 6:30 pm against the Adamson Soaring Falcons – another postseason-hunting team.
Ateneo 71 – Kouame 20, Padrigao 13, Andrade 9, Ildefonso 8, Garcia 8, Ballungay 5, Koon 4, Lazaro 2, Daves 2, Chiu 0, Quitevis 0.
FEU 65 – Torres 19, Gonzales 15, Sleat 10, Tchuente 8, Anonuevo 8, Bagunu 3, Bautista 2, Alforque 0, Sajonia 0, Sandagon 0, Tempra 0.
Quarters: 14-21, 27-41, 49-54, 71-65.