ATENEO ended a tumultuous week on a high note, dealing arch-rival De La Salle a 73-62 on Sunday to remain in contention for twice-to-beat advantage in the Final Four of the UAAP Season 76 men's basketball tournament.
Kiefer Ravena had a quiet 15 points but Ateneo did not need him to be his explosive self as Adrian Wong, Aaron Black and the rest of the team's super subs did enough to earn the Blue Eagles a split of their season meetings with La Salle before a sellout crowd at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
More importantly, the Blue Eagles booked a fifth straight win to raise their record to 9-4 (win-loss), staying within touching distance of top two University of Santo Tomas and Far Eastern University just days after the arrest at the Big Dome of Ateneo center Chibueke Ikeh.
“What’s more important right now is we are giving ourselves a chance at (catching) the league leaders," said Ateneo coach Bo Perasol. "It’s still in our hands.”
On the other hand, a third successive loss was a bitter pill to swallow for the Green Archers, who slipped to fifth place with a 5-7 record now half-a-game behind National University in the race for the fourth and last semifinal berth.
Von Pessumal topscored with 17 points for the Blue Eagles in what could be his and Ravena's final Ateneo-La Salle game, unless the two bitter rivals meet again in the playoffs.
Black and Wong combined for 23 big points off the bench.
La Salle had a strong start as it took a 19-9 lead in the first quarter behind a 60-percent clip from the field. The Green Archers were still up by 10, 34-24, when the Blue Eagles closed the quarter with a strong run to trim the deficit to 35-30.
That set the stage for Ateneo’s big run in the third. Pessumal hit a triple that tied the game at 37 before Fonzo Gotladera scored a go-ahead three-point play. Ravena capped the 14-2 run with a basket to give Ateneo a 44-37 lead.
A jumper by Aaron Black gave Ateneo a 51-41 lead, the team’s biggest at that point of the game. Ateneo led by as many as 11 points, 55-44, on a jumper by Black.
“Alam namin na sound ‘yung game plan namin. Above and beyond those game plans is ‘yung effort na wala nung first quarter. Kung hindi kami magbibigay ng 100 percent effort, it won’t matter,” said Perasol.
Prince Rivero had 16 points while Jeron Teng added 11 before fouling out with three minutes left.
Ateneo (73) — Pessumal 17, Ravena 15, Black 13, Wong 10, Ma. Nieto 6, Gotladera 5, Ikeh 4, Go 2, Capacio 1, Babilonia 0, V. Tolentino 0, Cani 0. A. Tolentino 0.
DLSU (62) — Rivero 16, Teng 11, Perkins 8, Torralba 8, Torres 6, Muyang 6, Caracut 5, Go 2, Langston 0, Navarro 0, Tratter 0.
Quarterscores: 13-23, 30-35, 53-44, 73-62.