On the brink of losing to the Blue Eagles once again, the Green Archers simply refused to quit. Ben Mbala’s MVP-worthy performance kept the team afloat all game but in the end, it was their collective defensive effort that saved them.
Admittedly, I really thought La Salle would not be able to comeback from a 7-point deficit with two and a half minutes left in the game given how well Ateneo plays down the stretch all season. Boy, was I wrong.
Unlike in their first round encounter, the Green Archers had a good start as they matched Ateneo’s aggressiveness and intensity on both ends of the floor. They kept the game close and led by 2 at halftime.
Come the third period, the Blue Eagles started to pull away as La Salle went back to the habit of playing listless defense and over-relying on Ben to carry the scoring cudgels. Of course, those questionable foul calls prevented the team from getting any sort of rhythm.
When coach Aldin threw his jacket in frustration over a non-call, this actually was the turning point as the Archers went beast mode on defense and held Ateneo scoreless from thereon.
Perhaps one of the keys to this win is that they did a good job in limiting Matt Nieto’s production as he was unable to score a point in the second half. As pointed out in our pregame, he has been a big factor in all their wins especially in clutch situations. Also, their top gunner Anton Asistio was held to just 6 points without a three-point field goal made.
What they could have done better though is defending the interior as they allowed Isaac Go to get to many uncontested shots down low. Such defensive lapses allowed Go to be open and had the opportunity to score what could have been the game-winning basket for Ateneo. Damn, that was so close. Thank goodness that Ben was able to recover just in time to make him change his shot.
Aside from Ben, there was Ricci Rivero who despite being saddled with early foul trouble was still able to deliver in the final minutes capped-off by a game-sealing block on Asistio. Props as well to Abu Tratter for making the hustle plays in that comeback trail and of course, to Kib Montalbo who was able to redeem himself from that round one defeat by making the go-ahead basket with 40 seconds left in the game.
I can’t help but still be amazed on how the team was able to pull this one off. Even when things didn’t appear to go their way all game, they somehow still managed to find a way to win. As they say, it’s okay to have an off-night on offense but never on defense.
This victory may not have an impact on the Green Archers’ position heading into the semis but this is certainly a huge confidence boost in preparation for the tougher battles ahead. Hey, they may just be the second seed but come playoff time, elimination round records don’t matter.
Three more wins!