RYAN BUENAFE converted a three-point play in the final 5.1 seconds and powered Ateneo to a tense 68-66 win over University of Santo Tomas Saturday in the UAAP men’s basketball tournament at the Mall of Asia Arena.
In a game that had all the trimmings of a championship, it was Buenafe who rose to the occasion and scored the game-winning basket for the four-time defending champions.
The former junior standout sank the bonus free throw to give the Eagles a two-point lead as game officials called a goaltending on Karim Abdul shortly after Buenafe was fouled while attempting a basket.
The Tigers, who fought back from as much as 13-point deficit in the fourth quarter, had one last chance to turn the game around, but Aljon Mariano, the most clutch player in UST's roster, failed to deliver this time, his potential game-winning three-pointer coming up short at the buzzer.
The win gave the Blue Eagles the top spot in the Final Four with a 12-2 win-loss card, while the Tigers fell to 9-4.
But in a major development, UST plans to put the game under protest as it contests the goaltending call on Abdul.
"The goal from the beginning was to try to stay in the top two,” said Ateneo coach Norman Black. “Even though we are in the top spot, we found out that if we lose today, we could be in a possible playoff for No. 2 with UST.
“We wanted to avoid that.”
Black admitted Buenafe’s basket was not by design.
“The play was for Kiefer (Ravena), but we could not get the basketball to Greg Slaughter at the post. It happened that it was a lucky play with Ryan going straight to the basket,” said Black.
After a video review of the play, the referees counted the basket, ruling the ball was on its way down when Abdul swatted it away.
Ravena led the Blue Eagles with 18 points, including the game’s highlight reel play when he slammed the ball off Abdul just before halftime.
Juami Tiongson also played a key role for the four-time champions as he scored13 points and was a huge factor when the Blue Eagles pulled ahead in the third period.
Tiongson accounted for all of the Eagles’ output in a 7-0 run for a 50-41 lead. Ateneo then hiked it to its biggest at 56-43 at the start of the fourth.
Then came the Tigers’ big fight back.
UST slowly cut down the deficit, before finally grabbing the lead, 66-65 on an Abdul jumper following a defensive blunder by Buenafe in the final 7.7 seconds.
But Buenafe atoned for the miscue, maneuvering his way inside in Ateneo’s next play as he escaped the tough defense put up by Mariano to score the game-winner.
Abdul finished with 22 points and 12 rebounds, while Jeric Teng contributed 12 markers for UST.
ATENEO (68) -- Ravena 18, Tiongson 13, Buenafe 11, Slaughter 10, Sumalinog 7, Salva 6, Elorde 3, Gonzaga 0, Golla 0, Chua 0.
UST (66) -- Abdul 22, Teng 12, Mariano 9, Fortuna 8, Ferrer 8, Bautista 7, Vigil 0, Pe 0, Lo 0, Afuang 0.
Quarterscores: 15-18; 30-33; 52-43; 68-66.