DEFENDING champion Ateneo is back where it belongs, booking its place in the UAAP Season 84 men's basketball tournament finals following a masterful 85-72 win over Far Eastern University on Wednesday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
It's the fifth straight championship appearance for the Blue Eagles, who put their four-peat bid back on track after a shock 84-83 loss to the UP Maroons last week put a blemish on their 13-0 season and ended a record 39-game win streak.
"We honestly put things behind us. We put it behind us cause FEU's the only game that matters," said coach Tab Baldwin.
Ange Kouame took matters into his own hands for top seed Ateneo with his nine points, a whopping 18 rebounds, alongside eight assists and four blocks against the fourth-seeded but overmatched Tamaraws side.
The Blue Eagles now await the winner of the sudden-death match between No. 2 seed UP and third-ranked La Salle this Friday, with the best-of-three finals commencing on Sunday.
BJ Andrade set the tone for Ateneo with 13 of his 16 points coming in the first half, alongside three assists; SJ Belangel scored seven of his 14 points in the fourth quarter, and Gian Mamuyac got 12 points, four boards, and two dimes.
The Blue Eagles broke away in the second quarter, using a 22-8 assault to turn a close 22-21 lead into a 15-point gap, 42-29, with 2:28 remaining.
That lead would further grow to 23 points, 63-41, late in the third before FEU rallied and sliced the lead down to 13 numerous times in the payoff period.
But Ateneo was just too deep and had a lot more left in its tank, with Belangel and Dave Ildefonso bringing the lead back to 20, 84-64 with 1:56 left in the game.
RJ Abarrientos paced FEU in the defeat with 16 points, five rebounds, and two steals. mman Ojuola had 13 points, 14 boards, and two steals in his last game for the Tamaraws, while graduating forward Brandrey Bienes had 13 points and three rebounds.
L-Jay Gonzales also had nine points, four assists, and two boards in the losing cause.
ATENEO 85 - Andrade 16, Belangel 14, Mamuyac 12, Ildefonso 11, Kouame 9, Daves 9, Lazaro 4, Verano 3, Koon 3, Chiu 2, Tio 2, Padrigao 0.
FEU 72 - Abarrientos 16, Ojuola 13, Bienes 13, Gonzales 9, Sleat 6, Alforque 5, Tempra 4, Torres 3, Celzo 2, Sajonia 1, Coquia 0.
Quarters: 16-16, 49-33, 65-48, 85-72.
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