February 25, 2018, 10:10 am
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Eagles back in Big Dance vs Archers

WITH Ateneo’s season on the line and the chance to return to the Big Dance within their grasp, the Blue Eagles turned to vastly-improved playmaker Matt Nieto who gamely stepped up and proved he has what it takes.

Proving steadier down the stretch, Ateneo hacked out an 88-84 decision in overtime yesterday over gritty Far Eastern University in their knockout duel for the second finals slot in the 80th UAAP basketball tournament at the Mall of Asia Arena.

The 6-foot Nieto sank a dagger of a trey in the stretch of the extra period and, along with burly big man Isaac Go, who buried another cold-blooded three-pointer that sent the game to overtime, powered the Blue Eagles to a finals rematch with arch-rival and defending champion La Salle.

Game 1 of the best-of-three series is set this Saturday at the same venue, with Ateneo eyeing payback after losing to the Green Archers in two games last year.

Thirdy Ravena led the Eagles with 17 points to go with seven rebounds and four assists while Nieto wound up with 16 points, six of them coming in overtime. Nieto also shot 3-of-7 from beyond the arc and had four dimes.

Chibueze Ikeh, Ateneo’s 6-foot-7 Cameroonian import, notched a double-double of 16 markers and 11 caroms while Go chipped in 13 and nine.

Ateneo assistant coach Sandy Arespacochaga lauded FEU for giving his team fits.

“Before the start of the game, we knew we were up against a strong team and credit to FEU because they really played really well, their coaching staff had a great game plan and their players really stepped up,” said Arespacochaga.

“We weren’t thinking that this was a 7-7 team (FEU), we were ready to play a close game and that was what happened,” he added.

Out to redeem themselves from a stunning 67-80 loss to the Tamaraws last Nov. 19, the Eagles zoomed to a fast start and took a 40-33 lead at the half and still enjoyed a 57-53 buffer going into the payoff period.

But FEU battled back behind former Ateneo player Arvin Tolentino, Wendell Comboy, and Prince Orizu, going on a 14-2 run to take a 67-59 lead at the 6:20 mark of the fourth quarter.

The Katipunan-based squad responded with an 11-4 binge capped by a Ravena layup that gave them a 72-71 cushion with 33.8 seconds remaining.

Jasper Parker scored four straight points to give the Tams a 75-72 lead but Go sank a triple with 8.5 ticks left before Tolentino lost the ball in FEU’s final play in regulation.

With the game tied at 80-all in overtime, Nieto scored on a basket and a trey that made it 85-80 and, after a Richard Escoto jumper, Go delivered another dagger straight to the heart of the Tams with a putback despite falling down to the floor off a Nieto miss, sending the blue and white faithful into a frenzy while leaving FEU’s crowd in agony.

Parker paced the Tams with 19 points while Tolentino added 13 but the two could only combine for three points in the extra period. Comboy and Orizu also had 11 and 10, respectively.

FEU graduating skipper Ron Dennison was held to just two points as he and Jojo Trinidad, who finished with six points, sang their swan song.

“Credit to our players who never gave up, stay focused, and stuck to the game plan,” said Arespacochaga.
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