The sweep has been prevented.
With the Ateneo Blue Eagles gunning for a perfect 14-0 record, the defending champions De La Salle Green Archers stood in their way and halted an outright Finals berth.
The Archers proved clutch in the endgame as they came away with an impressive 79-76 win over their archrivals on Sunday at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
Ben Mbala was a man amongst boys, racking up 28 points, 19 rebounds, six steals, and six blocks. Ricci Rivero chipped in with 21 points and five boards.
La Salle’s win paved the way for a Final Four format in the semifinals.
“Actually, it will be easy for us because there is going to be a stepladder before we play Adamson (Falcons),” head coach Aldin Ayo mentioned, discussing whether or not they preferred a Final Four setup or stepladder eliminations. “Adamson will have to play FEU. We still have the twice-to-beat. But since its La Salle-Ateneo, we’re not going to back down, we’re just going to compete.”
La Salle showed off its maturity and poise down the stretch, ending the game with an emphatic 10-0 run. Ateneo was up by seven points, 76-69 after a Vince Tolentino layup off a broken play. The Blue Eagles got a huge break as Anton Asistio and Matt Nieto looked like they committed turnovers.
Ayo was visibly livid after the non-calls, but as it turned out, his passion and fury lifted his team up. The Archers fought tooth and nail, crawling their way back into the fold. They played impenetrable defense in the last two minutes and finally got the go-ahead basket with 40.3 ticks left on the clock courtesy of a Kib Montalbo floater.
In the ensuing sequence out of a timeout, Ateneo executed its play to perfection leading to a wide-open look for Isaac Go. But the game wasn’t meant for the Blue Eagles as Go missed from point-blank range. Mbala was also instrumental in that last sequence, bothering Go just enough in mid-air to force the miss.
“We got lucky in the end game, especially Isaac Go’s semi hook. It was uncontested. Luckily it did not go in,” said Ayo. “I have to commend the players for their effort, for sticking to the game plan especially during the end game.”
Rivero sealed the game with a pair of free throws and was the one who blocked Anton Asitio’s potential tying three-point attempt at the buzzer.
Thirdy Ravena led Ateneo with 15 points and eight rebounds. Go meanwhile added 13 points, six rebounds, and five assists.
La Salle will now face Adamson next Saturday, November 18, while Ateneo takes on the FEU Tamaraws the following day, Sunday, November 19, in the Final Four phase.
DLSU 79 – Mbala 28, Rivero R 21, Tratter 8, Santillan 7, Melecio 6, Montalbo 6, Go 3, Caracut 0, Rivero P 0, Baltazar 0, Paraiso 0
ATENEO 76 – Ravena 15, Go 13, Nieto Ma 12, Verano 9, Mendoza 7, Asistio 6, Tolentino 6, Ikeh 4, Porter 3, Nieto Mi 1, Mamuyac 0, Black 0
QUARTER SCORES: 17-22, 37-35, 54-63, 79-76