ATENEO overcame Soulemane Chabi Yo's coming out party to beat University of Santo Tomas, 71-70, and snatch the solo lead in a marquee match-up that was good as advertised yesterday in the UAAP men's basketball tournament at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
True enough, it was late morning, fast-paced contest between the two athletic teams that was a joy to watch right from the get-go, but the Blue Eagles turned to their defense at crunchtime to become the only undefeated team at 3-0.
Benin's Chabi Yo was a monster, leading the Growling Tigers with 25 points, 13 rebounds, two blocks and two steals against a UST team that refused to go down up to the end.
But it was Ateneo's Ivorian slotman Ange Kouame who produced the game's biggest play against Chabi Yo that broke UST's backs.
With the Eagles clinging to a 68-67 lead and were struggling to hit their shots, the Tigers tried to turn things around in the final minute, but Koaume foiled Chabi Yo's potential go-ahead jumper.
Buffer free throws by Thirdy Ravena and Matt Nieto gave Ateneo a 71-67 advantage before Renzo Subido's inconsequential triple at the buzzer set the final score.
In the second game that also went down the wire, Kurt Lojera drilled in a short corner jumper in the final 14.9 seconds as La Salle squandered a 19-point lead before holding on to a narrow 83-82 victory over National University to enter the win column.
Coach Tab Baldwin had a sigh of relief after the Eagles hurdled their biggest challenge of the young season after winning the first two games with a combined 30 points.
"We understood that game was going to be a really tough game. I feel fortunate we won the game. That's the kind of game that you can credit the team as much as you want, talk about character, and all of that, but I think that every applaud you give your team, you give the other. That could have gone either way," said Baldwin.
Ravena came through with 17 points, 10 rebounds, two assists and two steals, Kouame finished with 11 points, 10 boards and two blocks, while Gian Mamuyac added 10 points and four rebounds for Ateneo.
UST, which was eyeing its first 3-0 start since 2015, fell to 2-1, but not without giving a fight after being down by 13 in the first half.
The run-and-gun Tigers were exciting with their highlight plays, with rookie sensation Rhenz Abando showing his hops with a lob dunk, and Chabi Yo producing several crowd-pleasing slams that wowed the midday crowd.
Baldwin had a lengthy talk with counterpart Aldin Ayo after the game and had flattering words on the one-time NCAA and UAAP champion coach.
“I just have so much respect for him and the way he does his job and you know he's a blessing for Philippine basketball," Baldwin said.
After nailing the go-ahead basket, Lojera nearly became the goat after a kick ball violation was called on him. Fortunately for the Green Archers, it was ruled out by the referees as the infraction came in at the buzzer, allowing the Taft-based cagers to escape with the win.
Ateneo (71) -- Ravena 17, Kouame 11, Mamuyac 10, Navarro 8, Belangel 6, Maagdenberg 6, Ma. Nieto 5, Go 3, Wong 3, Mi. Nieto 2, Andrade 0, Daves 0, Tio 0.