THE dream finals showdown is on.
Ateneo de Manila arranged a titular duel with archrival De La Salle after pulling off a 69-68 escape over defending champion Far Eastern University (FEU) in overtime of their winner-take-all Final Four match on Wednesday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
On a day when the country commemorated National Heroes Day, Isaac Go stood as the bravest Blue Eagle with a putback that proved to be the marginal basket to send the No. 2 seed Ateneo to the best-of-three championship series against the Green Archers in Season 79 University Athletic Association of the Philippines men’s basketball action.
Two minutes before his big basket, Go got an inadvertent elbow from Tamaraws center Prince Orizu and bloodied his nose. Go was not even expected to be back in the game.
“It’s winning time. I have to set aside the injury and just play,” said Go, who capped his brilliant game with the winner to finish with 12 points and 14 rebounds.
Thirdy Ravena and Mike Nieto each had 13 points for the Blue Eagles, who will meet their chief nemesis for the first time since Season 71, when Ateneo kicked off its rare “five-peat.”
“The shot just went down,” said Ateneo Head Coach Tab Baldwin, describing how close the game was. “It’s hard to separate these two teams and he made the last shot only a half second too late.”
Baldwin was referring to Ron Dennison’s last gasp that went in but was clearly after the final buzzer that sent the Blue Eagles to center court to celebrate the victory.
Ateneo started flat in overtime with Ravena’s drive hitting the top of the board and Adrian Wong’s three-point attempt fell short.
The Blue Eagles’ woes continued for when Orizu accidentally hit Go during a rebound play and left the Ateneo center sprawling on the court with a bloodied nose, 3:08 left in the game.
Vince Tolentino’s split free throws gave the Blue Eagles a 67-66 lead but Dennison regained the lead for FEU with his own putback after Monbert Arong missed a jumper to give the Tamaraws a 68-67 edge with 2:07 left.
Then Go, with a plaster on the bridge of his nose, returned to the game, replacing Chibueze Ikeh, who just committed a turnover.
Go immediately made an impact with a putback, 69-68, with 1:24 remaining in the game.
Both teams exchanged empty possessions and FEU had a chance to steal the game but Dennison’s basket was a fraction of a second too late.
“Two teams played with a lot of heart, pride and determination—all of the things why we love sports,” Baldwin said. “My heart goes for Coach Nash [Racela]. What an outstanding coach he is, the guys is a class.”
Racela is set to move to the Philippine Basketball Association to coach TNT Katropa.
Arong led the Tamaraws with 15 points while Reymar Jose, who had 20 points and 23 rebounds in their 62-61 win the last time to force the knockout match, had another double-double game of 12 points and 12 boards.
Game One of the best-of-three finals is on Saturday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Richard Escoto chipped in 11 points for FEU, which had the chance to win the game in regulation but Arong missed his target to send the game to overtime, 66-all.