ADMU Blue Eagles 88 – UP Fighting Maroons 79 (Blue Eagles lead 1-0)
The UP Fighting Maroons showed no jitters in their return to the Finals. Unfortunately for them, they faced the Ateneo Blue Eagles who have been preparing for them for over a week. Thirdy Ravena and Matt Nieto showed their Finals form from last year to lead the Blue Eagles to a series-opening win.
Ravena had plenty of highlights in a game where he did almost everything for the Blue Eagles. He nearly finished with a triple-double of 21 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists. He also added two steal and two blocks to complete a well-rounded stat line. Even with Ravena’s numbers, the Blue Eagles still needed a big end game from Nieto to close out the Maroons. The point guard led Ateneo with a career-high 27 points, 19 coming in the second half to seal the win.
UP started off the game with an early 6-3 lead built on three well-run plays. After that initial throttle, the Blue Eagles settled their defense down and forced several turnovers which led to easy baskets on the other end. Ravena led Ateneo to a 15-3 blast to take a 12-point lead in the first period. He found his open teammates on the wings and even had a highlight block on David Murrell followed by a booming three-pointer.
The UP bench would not let the Ateneo pull away. In the second quarter, the Gomez De Liano brothers and Diego Dario joined Jun Manzo on a scoring barrage that got them back in the game. Their outside shots were falling and that fast tracked their comeback from the double-digit deficit in the first quarter. Manzo’s trey from the left corner tied the game at 32. He also buried a buzzer-beating three to end the first half with UP down by only one point.
UP suffered a huge blow to start the second half. Bright Akhuetie suffered a knee injury when he and Angelo Kouame were jockeying for position in the paint. With Akhuetie gone, the Blue Eagles were able to build a nine-point lead but that advantage would be short-lived. Manzo stayed hot scoring five straight points to keep UP within striking distance.
Akhuetie returned in the fourth quarter with UP only down by two thanks to timely hits by Paul Desiderio, Diego Dario and Gelo Vito. But that didn’t stop the rampage of the Blue Eagles. Ateneo got to the line repeatedly due to the early penalty situation for UP.
Then it was Nieto that closed out the game. He nailed a corner jumper followed by a three-pointer of a Ravena assist to build a 14-point Ateneo lead with two minutes left. That was enough cushion to hold off UP until the end.