MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Jeron Teng is not the King Archer for nothing.
The graduating forward had two scoreless quarters but he delivered when it counted most as De La Salle University avoided an upset against rival Ateneo de Manila University, 67-65, on Saturday, December 3 at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Teng made two clutch plays inside the final 30 seconds of the nail-biting series opener, knocking down the go-ahead layup with 15.1 seconds remaining then blocking Aaron Black from trying a potential game-tying jumper moments later.
"I just had to step up," said Teng, who finished with 10 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 assists.
"I wasn't getting my flow in the game and kailangan ko lang bumawi sa defense (I need to make up for it on defense). Next game I expect to play better."
Teng made up fo going 5-of-13 from the field and his 4 turnovers by taking over in the endgame, where he could've given La Salle a more comfortable 3-point cushion at the 37.6-second mark had his baseline jumper been counted.
Ateneo celebrated its first lead of the game via a Matt Nieto turnaround basket with 34.6 seconds left to play before Teng silenced the blue gallery with his layup off a Thirdy Ravena turnover.
"Siguro yung basket, instinct na lang yun. Ben (Mbala) did a good job sealing and I saw an opening so nakuha ko 'yung layup," Teng explained. "Doon sa block kay Aaron, wala talaga 'yun, crunch time 'yun e, adrenaline na lang 'yun. Buti natamaan ko 'yung bola."
(I guess the basket that's just instinct. Ben did a good job sealing so I saw an opening and I got the layup. The block on Aaron, that was crunch time already, that's adrenaline. Good thing I got a hand on the ball.)
Mbala had another double-double on a game-high 20 points with 15 rebounds, two steals, and a block. Though the big man rued his 5 turnovers, contributing to La Salle's 21 overall. The Archers likewise gave up 21 points off those miscues to the Blue Eagles.
Reported Rookie of the Year Aljun Melecio showed he was unafraid of the big moments, delivering cold-blooded triples in the fourth quarter that sent the Eagles back each time they came close.
Melecio finished with 12 points on 4-of-7 shooting from deep to go with 4 boards and an assist.
La Salle, which is gunning for its 9th UAAP men's basketball title, opened Game 1 with a 16-2 lead and led by as much as 15 before Ateneo clawed back into it in the third.
Aaron Black was the only Eagle in double figures with 12 points along with 8 rebounds and 3 assists. Adrian Wong had 9 markers while Ravena finished with 8.
Center Chibueze Ikeh registered 8 points and 9 rebounds, including the bucket that brought Ateneo to within a point with just under two minutes to go.
Ateneo struggled with its outside shooting once again, going one-for-9 from downtown in the first half and finishing 4-of-22 overall.
The favored Archers will try to finish off their underdog rivals Game 2 of the best-of-3 series on Wednesday, December 7 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
DLSU (67): Mbala 20, Melecio 12, Teng 10, Sargent 7, Torres 5, Montalbo 4, Rivero P 3, Tratter 3, Rivero R 2, Caracut 1, Perkins 0, Baltazar 0.
Ateneo (65): Black 12, Wong 9, Ravena 8, Ikeh 8, Nieto Mi 8, Go 6, Verano 5, Nieto Ma 5, Tolentino 2, Asistio 2, Porter 0, Mendoza 0.
Quarter scores: 19-6, 36-26, 52-52, 67-65.