La Salle squeaks past gutsy Ateneo in heart-stopping Game 1, moves closer to UAAP 79 title
The De La Salle Green Archers needed to play until the final possession before they could finally put away their hard-fighting rivals Ateneo but got the job done, 67-65, to claim Game One of the UAAP Season 79 Finals on Saturday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Despite La Salle jumping out to a huge first quarter lead, Ateneo was able to take the lead in the final minute but Jeron Teng made the go-ahead basket with 15 seconds.
Ben Mbala scored 20 points to lead the Green Archers while Teng scored 10 markers, including the clutch layup that put La Salle in the lead, alongside four rebounds and three assists.
DLSU now leads the series, 1-0, and is one game away from winning the championship.
La Salle opened the game with a vengeance, flaunting their depth as they jumped out to a 16-2 lead even without Mbala scoring a single point. Teng scored six points in the opening period, matching the output of the entire Ateneo team.
But the Blue Eagles finally broke out of their slumber in the second period behind the exploits of Aaron Black.
He opened the quarter with a three-pointer, 19-9, and later scored back-to-back baskets on a tough floating finish and a fastbreak and-one for five consecutive points as Ateneo came back to within four points, 26-22.
But Mbala started to impose his will on the interior as he scored five points in a 9-2 La Salle run that pushed the difference back up to double-digits, 35-24.
The Green Archers led 36-26 at the halftime break, with Mbala leading the way with seven points and five rebounds. Black led Ateneo with eight markers.
La Salle was able to push their lead back up to 13 points after a quick start to the third, but relentless Ateneo charged back again.
They got the Green Archers into penalty and chipped away from the free throw line but also got some outside shooting from Adrian Wong and Black, whose triple at the 4:07 mark brought the Blue Eagles back to within two points after a 14-3 run.
Some aggressive play from Thirdy Ravena and Raffy Verano, as well as free throws from Matt Nieto, allowed Ateneo to come all the way back and tie the game at 52-all heading into the fourth quarter.
The Green Archers again surged ahead thanks to the shooting of Aljun Melecio in the fourth but Mike Nieto made some big plays and Chibueze Ikeh scored three crucial baskets inside as the Blue Eagles again threatened the La Salle lead, 64-63.
Teng made a clutch shot at the end of their shot clock but it was waved off after an officials’ review.
Matt Nieto then came up huge with a spin move and bank shot to give Ateneo the lead, 65-64, plus a a free throw with 34 seconds remaining.
Niteo missed the charity and though Ateneo grabbed the offensive rebound, Ravena turned the ball over and Teng swung the balance as he sliced through the lane for a layup, 66-65.