Ateneo escapes with two-point win over UST

Four-time defending champion Ateneo is back in familiar territory: At the top of the eight-team field after the double-round elimination, armed with a twice-to-beat advantage.

Dragged into another down-the-wire battle, the Blue Eagles flashed ample poise in the stretch to hold off another growling fourth-quarter charge by the Tigers of University of Santo Tomas via a pulsating 68-66 victory Thursday and formally clinch the top spot in the semifinals of the UAAP Season 75 men’s basketball action at the packed MOA Arena.

Shifty guard Kiefer Ravena finished with 18 points and six boards while Juami Tiongson added 13, including nine during their big third-quarter surge, but it was the gutsy plays of Ryan Buenafe and Nico Salva in the crunch that helped the Blue Eagles gain their 12th win in 14 outings.

Trailing 65-66 with 7.7 seconds left, Buenafe turned a “lucky play” into the game-winner, releasing an off-balanced shot against Kevin Ferrer but UST’s Cameroon import Karim Abdul blocked his shot.

 Game officials, however, count Buenafe’s basket for an offensive basket interference violation and the 2010 Finals MVP then drained his bonus freebie that pegged the final count, sending the Ateneo faithful in the 16,776-strong crowd in a frenzy.

Complementing Buenafe’s clutch play was the 6-foot-3 Salva, who bucked a paltry six-point, seven-rebound outing with a big defensive stop on Aljon Mariano in the last 5.1 ticks, forcing the UST forward for a tough step-back three-point tjumper that hit the front of the rim as time expired.

“This was a tough and difficult game for us,” noted Black after the Tigers came back from a 43-56 hole and repeatedly put the Eagles on the ropes in the stretch.

But the Katipunan-based cagers showed enough steely nerves.

“Ryan made a big play down the stretch. It was huge. It just happened to be a lucky play but he made the best of it by driving strong,” stated Black, whose wards also avenged their fourth-quarter meltdown that led to a stinging 70-71 defeat to the Tigers last July 19.

Karim Abdul, who put the Tigers ahead 66-65 off a jumper over Greg Slaughter, finished with game-highs of 22 points and 12 rebounds while Jeric Teng added 12 for UST, which slipped to third with a 9-4 mark, just half-a-game adrift of idle Far Eastern University (9-3).

And Black was quick to heap praises on the Tigers’ gritty resolve, saying: “UST is a very tough team. Like I said, they’re one of the big contenders. They’ll be very formidable down this stretch.”

According to league sources, the Tigers are reportedly trying to put the game under protest–contesting the goal-tending call on Abdul and also the possible technical foul on Black, who stormed to the floor up in arms, furious about the non-call on Kevin Ferrer’s dribbling violation that led to Abdul’s go-ahead twinner with 7.7 ticks left.

“Hindi ko na iko-contest. Kilala niyo naman ako. ‘Pag talo, talo. Pero gusto ng management,” stated UST coach Pido Jarencio.


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