By Joseph W Buduan
Ateneo squanders a good early lead and falls to archrival La Salle, officiating in third period called into question by fans
SMOA Arena, 7 July 2013 – Ateneo De Manila lost to archrival De La Salle 73 – 82 and fell to their worst start in the last dozen years.
Going into this game, the Blue Eagles were already in a 0-2 predicament, reprising the start to their 2003 season 10 years ago. There was already a strong sense of urgency to get that first win, and more so since this was against the Green Archers, the team that has fancied itself as the Ateneo rival since both teams moved to the UAAP from the NCAA almost 30 years ago.
Chris Newsome, the 6-foot-2 Filipino-American rookie, got into his groove early, as the Ateneo raced to a 10-4 start right in the opening period. Newsome was aggressively attacking the La Salle defense and making life difficult for Jeron Teng, last season’s Rookie of the Year. Teng just does not have the foot speed and lateral strength necessary to guard Newsome one on one, and the Ateneo stalwart kept taking it straight to the sophomore Archer.
Almond Vosotros however would not let his team fall too far behind, connecting early from three-point range while helping Thomas Torres set up and distribute. La Salle however seemed overeager with the basketball, turning the ball over on four consecutive sequences, two of them unforced. Ryan Buenafe and Nico Elorde were picking up loose balls and initiating the Ateneo early offense along with Newsome as the Blue Eagles kept a 20-16 edge at the end of the opening period. Newsome had half of Ateneo’s first quarter production.
In the second period the Newsome’s awesomeness continued. This time he played decoy and helped open up opportunities for his teammates. Starting pointguard Juami Tiongson joined the scoring spree as he hit back to back layups, while Von Pessumal snak a pair of freethrows, to give the Ateneo its largest lead at 38-24 late in the second period.
Teng, Torres and Vosotros tried to keep the Green Archers in the thick of things but their side was just committing too many errors. Teng lost the ball on a layup attempt. Vosotros then turned his back just as a pass was coming his way from Torres. Torres capped it off with another errant pass taken away by Elorde, all in a two-minute stretch late in the quarter. Newsome and the rest of the Blue Eagles capitalized on these errors and made sure the Ateneo held a good 40-28 lead entering the lemon time break. Newsome had 18 points on six layups, going 8-9 from the field while playing 17 minutes.
In the third period though, the world suddenly turned itself over on the Blue Eagles. Up to about the midway point of this quarter the reigning champions had reestablished a 14-point spread at 48-34 on a good slide-in layup by 6-foot-7 center JP Erram. Erram however would foul out towards the end of the third period after playing very limited minutes. His fouls were essentially the same, making silly mistakes like cocking his arm to block shots and nudging opposing big men instead of establishing and holding position. Another veteran big man, 6-foot-5 Frank Golla, was also not getting anything done. That would signal the decimation of the Ateneo frontline.
With 6-foot-3 rookie Vince Tolentino forced to man the pivot, 6-foot-8 La Salle center Arnold Van Opstal went to town. He scored eight points in this period, using his superior size and strength to great effect against the small-ball Blue Eagles. With Van Opstal now dominating the lane, Vosotros and Torres found their rhythm too. Vosotros unloaded nine points in this period mostly from the perimeter. “I just wanted to play hard when I got on the floor,” Van Opstal said in the post-game interview. “It was our time now,” he added.
Things turned from bad to worse for the Ateneo when Newsome had to be taken out after a highly questionable foul call against him. Chasing down a loose ball he was undercut on the far corner by Torres, causing him to take to the air awkwardly. He then landed on Luigi Dela Paz, for which he was called a foul. “That had to be one of the dumbest calls ever,” remarked Edward Lim, a lawyer and junior alumnus. “How can the undercut by Torres not be called a foul while the completely accidental and incidental landing on Dela Paz was,” he expounded.
With the Ateneo game now in a shambles, La Salle quickly went to work. Torres and Vosotros tied the score at 50-all as the La Salle gallery roared its approval. Tiongson kept the Blue Eagles in it at 54-all on a difficult jumpshot. Van Opstal however ended the third period with five straight points inside, capped by an And-1 play that fouled Erram out to give the Green Archers the lead for good at 56-59.
In the payoff fourth period it was an all-La Salle show as Dela Paz, Vosotros, Torres and Van Opstal held steady in the face of several attempted rallies by the Ateneo. Buenafe and Newsome brought the Ateneo within 70-74 late in the quarter. Dela Paz however buried a clutch three-pointer from the corner to make it 70-77. Vosotros stole the ball off Newsome and made it 72-81 for La Salle. A Vosotros freethrow gave the Green Archers their biggest lead at 72-82. Newsome ended the scoring with a freethrow of his own.
Newsome had a career-high 27 points to go with seven rebounds and four assists. He shot 11-12 from the field. Buenafe had his second straight double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds to go with four assists and two blocks. Tiongson added 14 markers.
Vosotros led La Salle with 19 points and nine rebounds while Van Opstal added 18 markers and eight rebounds.
Without a doubt the most telling two statistics of the game were the freethrows and the rebounds. La Salle was given 34 freethrows and made 19, while the Ateneo was given 15 freethrows and made 12. La Salle also dominated the boards with 48 rebounds including 16 off the offensive glass, while the Ateneo only managed 32 rebounds with a measly five offensive caroms. Clearly the Green Archers wanted the ball more and had the size and talent to get it, giving themselves more chances at the basket and consequently more chances at getting fouled and going to the line compared to the Ateneo. Golla and Erram failed to get a single rebound between the two of them in a combined 20 minutes of play.