Ateneo showed the league that selfless Basketball wins games. And they also showed the FEU Tamaraws that you can't win a game in the first half, but you sure can lose it.
The Blue Eagles thrashed FEU 92-73 last Wednesday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum with a lethal brand of attractive, team-first hoops, especially in the first twenty minutes of play.
Ateneo came out of the blocks quickly with a 16-4 run to start the game, eventually taking a 26-13 lead at the end of the first quarter. Then a 14-4 run to kick off the second period seemed to truly take the wind out of the Tamaraw's sails. The Ateneans led 51-28 at the half.
Kiefer Ravena displayed a keen court vision that helped shred the Tams defense. In the first quarter he made a delicious pass to Juami Tiongson on a fast break for an easy bucket. Two minutes later he hung up a gorgeous alley-oop pass that Chris Newsome converted.
Just before the half the Phenom executed yet another superb assist, a textbook bounce pass to a streaking Newsome that was finished perfectly by the rookie.
Ravena wound up with five assists, tops in the game along with Ryan Buenafe, plus nine boards. The shooting guard scored 18 points, second only to Juami Tiongson's 20.
In the third quarter Tiongson hit back-to-back corner threes that put Ateneo up 65-36 and seemed to break the Tam's spirit for good. The lead even went as high as 33, 71-38.
Terrence Romeo did finish with 19 points but fourteen of them were in the meaningless fourth quarter, when the game was well out of reach. For the first thirty minutes it was definitely a case of “Romeo, wherefore art thou, Romeo?” as the youngster struggled.
The mercurial two-guard was a surprise non-starter in the game too. TJ Manotoc remarked to me that it was the first time FEU coach Nash Racela hadn't trotted out Romeo in the first five all season long. Romeo only entered the game for Mike Tolomia with six minutes to play and with the Tams down 14-4.
One can only surmise that Romeo could have been knackered from the grueling double OT win over UE last Sunday. But the same could be said about the rest of the team.
Meanwhile Ateneo out-assisted their foes 21 to 10, and were the better team in field goal percentage as well, good for a 46.5% clip against FEU's dismal 34.6%.
The Blue Eagles outrebounded FEU too, 58 to 42, with Newsome leading everyone with fourteen grabs. Tamaraw center Anthony Hargrove could only muster four rebounds. It's painfully apparent that he must step up on both ends of the court if FEU hopes to bring the title back to Morayta this season. Championships are usually built with an elite big man as a cornerstone.
FEU is still atop the league at 8-3, but the barbarians are well and truly at the gate. National U lurks at 7-3, a half game out, while Ateneo, De La Salle are just a further game adrift. Even 5-5 UST cannot be counted out.
A late season meltdown seems to be an annual rite of spring for FEU. Note the Mark Barroca fiasco from a few years back, the Glenn Capacio hypertension-during-the Finals incident, and the Arvie Bringas spitting imbroglio of last year.
The Tams have now lost three of four, and the Growling Tigers loom on Sunday. Thankfully after that, FEU can relax (a bit) with games against Adamson and UP after. The twice-to-beat advantage is still very much within reach if Far Eastern can knock off the Tigers. A gritty FEU has won all three overtime games they have been in this season, and counting them out now will be foolish.
But the day belonged to Ateneo, whose six-peat hopes have been defibrillated with five straight wins after an 0-3 start. The Eagles were magnificent defensively, and if you listen to Ateneo coach Bo Perasol, it's not rocket science.
“They are all good defenders as individuals. Wala namang sekreto doon. I hope we can also play honest-to-goodness defense against La Salle (on Sunday.)”
When asked if he thought his team was reaching its full potential, he answered “I still need to see (backup center) Poy Erram at 100%. I'm still waiting to see him play at his best.”
Erram went down in the third quarter when Von Pessumal landed awkwardly on his right knee. The Cagayan De Oro native never returned upon the advice of the Ateneo doctor, but Perasol says the injury isn't serious.
Perasol recently had kidney stone surgery that hampered him from sitting up and down. But surely the brilliant performance of his charges helped ease the pain. The mojo is back in Ateneo, and they are peaking at just the right time, with La Salle coming up. The first-year coach said it best in the postgame press conference.
“I think the winning mentality Ateneo had in previous years is back.”
Follow Bob on Twitter @bhobg333.