AFTER missing the final stretch of Ateneo's previous game, Ryan Buenafe made sure his presence was felt big time.
Buenafe took charge on offense and the rest of the Eagles took care of defense as the four-time reigning champions reasserted their mastery of rivals De La Salle Archers, 77-67, on Saturday in the UAAP men’s basketball tournament before a crowd of 17,126 at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
The former juniors MVP scored a career-high 24 points and tallied nine in the opening quarter as he made up for his long absence the last time when he was ejected for an unsportsmanlike technical fouls in the team’s bruising encounter against Far Eastern University.
As Buenafe waxed hot on the offensive end, the Blue Eagles locked down on the Archers on defense, giving the league’s top defensive team a dose of its own medicine.
The win tightened Ateneo’s grip on the top spot with a 9-1 (win-loss) card and clinched for the Eagles at least a playoff for a Final Four berth.
The Eagles shot 42.2 percent from the field while allowing La Salle to make no more than 34.3 percent of its shots.
“We really wanted to re-establish ourselves as the best defensive team in the league,” said Ateneo coach Norman Black. “For the first time, La Salle overtook us (in terms of defense). We talked about it, and we just wanted to prove that we are still the best defensive team.”
The loss snapped La Salle’s four-game winning streak, sending the Archers into a tie with National University for fourth place at 6-4.
Buenafe planned to come back strong strong after getting ejected in the Eagles’ 77-64 win over the Tamaraws last Wednesday where he was limited to just six minutes of action.
“Last game pa ako ganado maglaro kasi malaki ang kumpiyansa ni coach sa akin. Gusto ko talagang bumawi ngayon kaya kinontrol ko sarili ko,” said Buenafe, whose early explosion put Ateneo ahead, 26-10.
Almond Vosotros made the game interesting when he hit four three-point shots to cut Ateneo’s lead to 35-29 at the half.
The Green Archers then threatened to within two following a three-pointer by rookie Jeron Teng, but the Blue Eagles countered by scoring six straight points which Buenafe sparked.
Buenafe later answered a 5-0 mini-run by La Salle in the fourth quarter with a putback, giving the Eagles a 68-59 lead with less than four minutes to play.
Kiefer Ravena had 18 points, seven rebounds and four assists, as he finally took charge for Ateneo in the endgame.
Nico Salva added 12, while Juami Tiongson had 10. Greg Slaughter finished with only four points, but was a huge presence on the defensive end with 11 rebounds and four block shots.
Teng finished with 22 points while Vosotros had 20 as the two were the only double-figure scorers for the Green Archers.
Ateneo has now won 11 out of its last 12 games with La Salle, including four wins in a row.
Ateneo (77) -- Buenafe 24, Ravena 18, Salva 12, Tiongson 10, Slaughter 4, Chua 4, Sumalinog 3, Gonzaga 2, Golla 0, Elorde 0.
La Salle (67) -- Teng 22, Vosotros 20, Van Opstal 8, Tampus 8, N. Torres 4, Manguera 3, Mendoza 2, Andrada 0, Paredes 0, Torres 0, Tallo 0, Webb 0.
Quarterscores: 26-10; 35-29; 57-46; 77-67.