Opening day jitters. Yes it still happens to veterans as the three time defending champion Ateneo de Manila Blue Eagles were able to regain their composure in the fourth quarter just in time to squeak past the Adamson Falcons with an ugly 55 – 51 win. It was the 29th straight win of the Blue Eagles against the Falcons who last beat them in 1997. Rookie slotman Greg Slaughter was just what the doctor ordered for the Blue Eagles as the Smart Gilas center scored 23 points pulled down 8 rebounds, had 2 assists and 2 blocked shots as he literally stood head above the others.
The Blue Eagles opened the first quarter like a house on fire as Slaughter scored the first four points while forward Nico Salva and Emman Monfort joined the frey as the Blue Eagles got an early 8 – 2 lead in the first 6:50 of the quarter. Fifth year guard Kirk Long helped put the Blue Eagles up 16 - 5 as they had their way with the San Marcelino five but after a time out the Falcons regrouped, tightened their defense and unleashed a 7-0 run which was sparked by Jeric Cañada to end the first quarter and have the Falcons within striking distance of the Blue Eagles as the quarter ended with the Falcons down 12 - 16.
Former Blue Eaglet Kiefer Ravena came off the bench to play but unfortunately, the leech like defense of the Falcons prevented him to shoot the ball as the Blue Eagles went exclusively to Slaughter with the big man responding with 8 second quarter points. As a result, the Falcons once again tightened their defense as the Blue Eagle’s second team suddenly couldn’t buy a basket. The second quarter ended witht the Blue Eagles still on top 33 – 27.
The start of the second half saw the Blue Eagles fire blanks and their shooting turned cold as their shots were not falling and their lay ups were rimming out. The Soaring Falcons eventually took advantage in this chink in the armor of the Blue Eagles as the Falcons opened the quarter with an 8 – 0 run to take the upperhand 34 – 33 with 6:50 left in the quarter. Alex Nuyles and Lester Alvarez waxed hot as they sank three three – pointers between them to put the Falcons ahead 44 -39. The Eagles eventually countered by going to Slaughter once more and their defense kept them in the game and kept Adamson from breaking away as the Falcons ended the quarter on top 44 -43.
The fourth quarter was like a chess match with both teams calculating each team’s move and both teams found it hard to puncture the hoop. The Falcons raced to a 51 – 44 lead with 6:58 left as the hot shooting of the Falcons gave them the lead and an upset was in the making. Unfortunately for the Falcons the Blue Eagles showed the stuff that they are made off by shutting down the Falcons the rest of the way. The Falcons were forced to two 24 second violations and their top playmaker Lester Alvarez who was expected to explode in the fourth quarter came up short in the face of the Ateneo defense and was even blocked by Slaughter in a crucial stretch of the game. Kirk Long and Emman Monfort closed out the game with Kirk scoring off a lay up and Monfort putting the game away with his free throws.
The Blue Eagles shot a woeful 17 of 44 from the field with a 38.6 % but they limited the Falcons to 26.2 % shooting. The Falcons were 6 of 22 from beyond the arc while the Eagles were only 1 of 10 from the three point area. Also, the Falcons were 11 of 11 from the Free throw line while the Blue Eagles missed 9 shots, 18 of 27. The Blue Eagles outrebounded the Falcons 42-34 while most of the statistics were somewhat all the same. It was an ugly win for the Ateneo but as they say we can take it.
Ateneo 55 – Slaughter 23, Long 10, Salva 8, Monfort 6, Erram 3,Gonzaga 3, Austria 2, Ravena 0, Tiongson 0, Sumalinog 0, Golla 0, Chua 0
Adamson 51 – Nuyles 11, Alvarez 8, Canada 6, Camson 6, Cabrera 6, Manyara 5, Lozada 3, Etrone 2, Brondial 2, Colina 2
Quarters: 16-12, 33-27 43-44, 55-51