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Ateneo remains undefeated in Mall of Asia; one step closer to being Champions once again.

By: Sabrina Suarez

PASAY CITY - What's known to be the most intense and well known rivalry in Philippine Sports history extends it's story to this Season's Finals as the Ateneo Blue Eagles escaped with a 76-70 win against the De La Salle Green Archers last Saturday in the Mall of Asia Arena, in Pasay City.

The Blue Eagles are just one win away from becoming champions once again as they escaped the Archers with a 6-point win.

The trio of Isaac Go, who finished with 5 points, 2 rebounds, and 2 assists; and the Nieto brothers, Matt and Mike who finished with 11 points a piece, and 2 and 5 rebounds respectively, made their presence felt once again when it mattered the most, helping the Eagles claim their win against their arch rivals.

La Salle's Aljun Melecio, slowly got his game back as he led the Archers with 24 points, 2 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 steals, alongside Ricci Rivero who finished with 10 points, 3 rebounds, and 1 assists; while Ben Mbala finished with only 8 points, 12 rebounds, and 4 assists.

Opening period, Ateneo's Matt Nieto drew first blood on the scoreboard which was then followed by a floater by Santillan led to the first deadlock, 2-2. Halfway through the period, Ateneo pulled away with an 8-point lead, 16-8. La Salle's Aljun Melecio stopped the bleeding with a 3-point shot, which was then followed by a jumper by Ben Mbala, which cut the lead of the Eagles down to 3, 16-13. The multiple fouls committed by the Archers led to the Eagles pulling away with their free throws that put  their lead back up to 7. Aaron Black of Ateneo extended the lead for his team to 10, 24-14. A turnover by La Salle's Kib Montalbo led to Ateneo ending the first period with a 12-point lead, 26-14.

Mike Nieto slashing through La Salle's defense - Dugout Philippines/ Franchesca Nicole Collantes
The Rivero brothers broke the silence for La Salle as Ricci assisted older brother Prince, which cut the lead to 11, 27-16. Ateneo's Vince Tolentino drew Ricci Rivero's first foul and made 1 of his 2 free throws that put the lead back up to 12, 28-16. Prince Rivero with a lay-up, followed by back-to-back points by Abu Tratter to stopped the bleeding and cut down the lead to 4, 31-27. At the 4:17 mark, Ateneo's Chibueze Ikeh and La Salle's Ben Mbala were called for a double-technical for taunting; ball possession remained with Ateneo. La Salle's Aljun Melecio made his presence felt in the second period as he drilled in a 3-point shot that cut the Eagles' lead to just 3, 33-30; though in the last 2 minutes of the quarter, he was called for an unsportsmanlike foul on Anton Asistio which led to the Eagles extending their lead to 4, 38-34. Thirdy Ravena then drilled in a 3-point shot that put their lead back up to 7, 41-34. A mandatory substitution was called for Matt Nieto as he committed his second foul after he collided with Ben Mbala. The Archers made a small run but the Eagles remained to be in the lead at the end of the first half, 43-39.

Isaac Go driving to the basket - Dugout Philippines/ Franchesca Nicole Collantes
 Come third period, Thirdy Ravena started things off for the Eagles as he drew Mbala's third foul and made 1 out of 2 free throws; it was then followed by a put back by Ikeh which put their lead up by 7, 46-39. A small run was made by the Archers after Asistio committed an unsportsmanlike foul against Melecio, that helped cut the lead of the Eagles to 6, 48-42. At the 6:55 mark, Melecio assisted Ricci Rivero with a pass before the latter finished the play with a dunk, which cut the lead down to 4, 48-44. It was then followed by back-to-back 3-point shots by Asistio, which extended their lead to 8, 54-46. At the 4:34 mark, Santi Santillan ties the game with a floater at 54 all. After a rebound by Isaac Go, Kib Montalbo swiped the ball away, and finished a wrap-around lay-up, and drew the foul as he put the Archers up by 1, 56-57. Mike Nieto's back-to-back lay-ups got their lead back, and finished the quarter with a 2 deficit, 60-58.

Matt Nieto surpassing Aljun Melecio, penetrating La Salle's defense - Dugout Philippines/ Franchesca Nicole Collantes
The Eagles started their offense in the final period with Mike Nieto, who drew Mbala's fourth foul, and completed the 3-point play which put their lead to back up to 5, 63-58. At the 6:32 mark, Tyler Tio's fade away shot extended the lead for the Eagles to 10, 69-59. A small run was made by the Archers as Ricci Rivero stopped the bleeding for them with a lay-up, which was then followed by a 3-point shot, cutting the lead to just 5, 69-64. Melecio's presence was felt in the last quarter as he cut the lead to 3, 71-68, followed by a defensive stop with only 5.2 seconds left on Ateneo's shot clock for that possession; and once again, cuts the lead down to only 1 point, 71-70. With only 10.4 seconds remaining in the game, Isaac Go's big shot and completed 3-point play cushioned the lead and finished the game for the Eagles with a 6-point win, 76-70.

Both teams will face each other again for Game 2 this coming Wednesday, November 29, at 4pm in the Smart Araneta Coliseum. 

Box Scores

AdMU 76 - Ravena 12, Ma. Nieto 11, Mi. Nieto 11, Asistio 10, Tolentino 9, Black 7, Go 5, Verano 5, Ikeh 4, Tio 2, Mamuyac 0, Mendoza 0, Porter 0

DLSU 70 - Melecio 24, Ri. Rivero 10, Mbala 8, Ra. Rivero 7, Santillan 7, Tratter 7, Baltazar 4, Montalbo 3, Caracut 0, Go 0, Paraiso 0, Tero 0

Quarter Scores:

26-14, 43-39, 60-58, 76-70

Follow her on Twitter: @_sabrinaysabel