RYAN Buenafe, the gunner whom his coach refers to as the `money player,’ has struck again.
Once again rising to the occasion in the biggest stage of the league’s 75th season, Buenafe came alive when the game was on the line as he made the biggest baskets in the endgame as Ateneo held off University of Santo Tomas, 83-78, before a roaring crowd of 20,686 at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Without a field goal in the first half, Buenafe, the former star player of the San Sebastian Staglets who sat out last season because of weight issues, suddenly hit his stride in the final four minutes of the thrilling, back-and-forth contest, at a time when the Tigers were breathing heavily down the Eagles’ neck, 71-70.
He fired away six straight points, including a rare four-point play off a perfect feed by Juami Tiongson, as the Eagles took control for good, 77-70, and signaled the beginning of celebration for the loud Ateneo gallery.
In all, Buenafe had eight of his 10 points in the pivotal fourth.
“He’s done it over and over again, you guys should be used to it. He’s a money player,” said a grinning Ateneo coach Norman Black when asked about the late-game heroics Buenafe did for the nth time.
“He’s a player who comes up big when the game is on the line.”
Buenafe let out a hearty laugh when told that he’s called a 'money player' by his coach.
“Natataon lang siguro talaga,” he said. “Tsaka yung trust na binibigay ni coach Norman sa akin binabalik ko lang.”
Buenafe, who also came big in Ateneo’s second-round win over rival De La Salle, regained confidence in his shot after Karim Abdul committed a goal-tending on his floater inside the lane.
Then came the booming trey from the deep left corner that was perfectly set-up by a driving Tiongson.
“Mataas na yung confidence level ko nun, so sabi ko sa sarili ko, pag nakuha ko `yung bola i-shoot ko iyon. So nung kick-out nga sa akin ni Juami, yun ang nangyari, four-point play,” recalled Buenafe, who also had eight rebounds, and three assists.
Incidentally, that critical three-pointer was his lone trey made during the game as he finished 1-of-6 from the same spot.
Black isn't always happy with Buenafe's shot selection, but he is not about to stop his enigmatic forward from looking for his shot.
“I’m still struggling with all those three-point shots that he takes all the time,” said Black with a sigh. “But I never stop him from taking it, as he has the confidence to take and make them.”
It turned out Black was right on the money.