THE Ateneo De Manila Blue Eagles soared to their fifth consecutive victory in the UAAP Season 78 men’s basketball tournament with a decisive 73-62 win over the La Salle Green Archers on Sunday at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
Trailing by double-digit deficits in the first half, the Blue Eagles leaned on a decisive 23-9 third-quarter output to take command of the game going to the fourth period.
Kiefer Ravena, electing to drive strong to the hoop instead of chucking up three pointers, led the blazing Ateneo start in the third period. The Eagles started the quarter with a 14-2 run to turn a 30-35 deficit into a 44-37 advantage with 4:48 to go in the third.
Ateneo youngsters Adrian Wong and Aaron Black — showing everyone there’s nothing to worry about when seniors Ravena and Von Pessumal graduate at the end of the season — then took over the scoring chores. The pair led a swirling 9-7 finish as the Eagles erected a commanding 53-44 advantage going into the final quarter.
Prince Rivero scored on a charity split to cut the Ateneo lead to just five points, 64-59. Neither team could score from the field, but Ateneo converted enough free throws, including four by Ravena, to go on to win the game.
Pessumal scored 17 points to earn Player of the Game honors. Ravena also had an outstanding game with 15 points, five rebounds and two assists.
With the victory, Ateneo (9 wins, 4 losses), which already clinched a seat in the semifinals, stayed within reach of the twice-to-beat advantage given to the top two teams in the Final Four. They trail the Far Eastern University Tamaraws (10-2) and the University of Santo Tomas Growling Tigers (10-3).
La Salle’s loss (5-7) meant that the final berth in the Final Four is still undecided. Still in the running are the National University Bulldogs (6-7) and the University of the East Red Warriors (4-8).
Meanwhile, the defending champion National University Bulldogs leaned on Gelo Alolino to beat the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons, 75-69, in the opening game.
Alolino scored a career-high 26 points and grabbed 10 rebounds to power the Bulldogs to victory. NU (6 wins, 7 losses) is in a tight race with La Salle for the last berth in the Final Four.