ATENEO coach Norman Black was correct. The Blue Eagles, however, either didn't listen or didn't take the warning seriously enough.
Black had pinpointed Aljon Mariano as the dangerman among the University of Santo Tomas players and his words proved prophetic as the forward led the Tigers to a 71-70 victory over the Eagles on Thursday in the UAAP men’s basketball tournament at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The 19-year-old Mariano scored 21 points to key the Growling Tigers’ fightback from 19 points down. He scored 13 points in the third period alone as he led the Growling Tigers who exploded for 30 points in that stretch to rebound from a 43-28 halftime deficit.
Karim Abdul completed UST’s victory with a driving lay-up over the foul-troubled Greg Slaughter with 10.3 seconds left for a 71-67 lead.
“Talaga siguro ’yung breaks of the game nasa amin,” said UST coach Pido Jarencio. “Down by 19, hindi bumaba ang loob ng mga bata at ngayon, nanalo kami ng one point.”
The win ended the Tigers' 12-game losing streak to Ateneo that dates back to 2007. It also ensured that there would be no perfect start for the fivepeat-seeking Eagles who won their first 13 games last season.
“Sobrang tagal ng drought namin na hindi kami nanalo sa Ateneo pero hindi kami nawalan ng puso,” said Mariano, who was sidelined for all of last season with a fractured right ankle.
The Eagles led 39-20 in the second quarter and took a 15-point lead at halftime.
But Mariano took over for UST at the resumption, hitting crucial jumpers and scoring on a short stab to give UST a 56-54 lead they never relinquished. Frank Golla’s buzzer-beating tip-in of his own basket that was wrongly credited to Jeric Teng made it a 58-54 advantage entering the fourth.
UST’s biggest margin was eight points on a Mariano fadeaway early in the fourth. The closest Ateneo got was one-point when Juami Tiongson hit a triple with 4.3 seconds left. The clock still read 1.8 seconds when Teng missed two free throws but there wasn't enough time for Ateneo to heave a miracle shot.
Meanwhile, swingman Ralph Atangan scored 25 points as defending champion National University subdued the La Salle-Zobel Junior Archers, 80-74, at the start of the junior’s basketball tournament on Wednesday at The Arena in San Juan.
Far Eastern University used a big third quarter attack to fashion out a 69-58 victory over the Ateneo Blue Eaglets.
Hubert Cani, a national youth mainstay, chipped in 15 points while Reggienal Morido had a double-double with 14 points and 10 boards for the Jeff Napa-mentored Bullpups.
A 20-8 run powered the Baby Tamaraws to a 54-32 lead entering the payoff period.
Reigning MVP Jerie Pingoy had an impressive all-around game with 17 points on top of seven rebounds, seven assists, three steals, and two blocks for FEU, which placed second last year.
Antonio Asistio was the lone Blue Eaglet in double digits with 14 markers.
In other matches, the Adamson Baby Falcons downed the University of the East Junior Warriors, 73-67, while the University of Santo Tomas Tiger Cubs outlasted the University of the Philippines Integrated School, 77-73.
UST 71 — Mariano 21, Teng 16, Abdul 14, Fortuna 11, Ferrer 4, Bautista 3, Lo 2, Pe 0, Daquioag 0, Afuang 0.
ATENEO 70 — Ravena 19, Salva 17, Slaughter 9, Tiongson 8, Buenafe 5, Sumalinog 4, Elorde 3, Chua 3, Golla 2, Gonzaga 0, Erram 0.
Quarterscores: 12-27, 28-43, 58-54, 71-70.