MANILA, Philippines - Looks like Coach Norman Black was right all along.
Aljon Mariano exploded like what the American coach expected, and Black's Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU) could not stop the returning forward from leading University of Santo Tomas (UST) to a heart-stopping 71-70 shocker Thursday afternoon, July 19 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Mariano, who missed Season 74 with a fractured right ankle, erupted for 13 points in a decisive third quarter spurt that helped the Growling Tigers dig themselves out of a 19-point hole and complete the triumph that stopped its 12-game losing streak against the Blue Eagles.
"Siguro law of averages naman (Perhaps it's the law of averages)," said a jubilant Coach Pido Jarencio, who last defeated their foes almost five years ago. "Hindi pwedeng laging kami yung umiiyak (We can't always be the one crying)."
Strong ADMU start
The four-time defending champions jumped out of the gates firing and took an 8-0 lead that ballooned to 39-20 late in the second quarter, as sophomore Kiefer Ravena dominated UST's defense with 13 first-half points.
Graduating forward Nico Salva also contributed to the early attack, contributing 11 points and seven rebounds to help Ateneo take a 43-28 advantage at the break.
Unlike in their opening game win against Adamson University, however, the Eagles got bamboozled in the third quarter this time, with Mariano spearheading a 30-point period that allowed them to grab the driver's seat entering the final canto, 58-54.
"Siguro break out ni Aljon (Maybe it's Aljon's break out game)," Jarencio said of his prized ward, who also had 13 rebounds in 36 minutes. "Ineexpect ko naman na talagang puputok siya (I expected him to erupt)."
Mariano's performance confirmed Black's prediction that the former will give them a lot of trouble in this matchup, the same way he predicted UST would serve as one of their biggest threats. Apparently, Black's words served as motivation for the 19-year-old.
"Nung narinig ko yung sinabi niya, lalo akong ginanahan (When I heard him say that, I became more driven)," Mariano said. "Sobrang fulfilling ito kase ang tagal kong nag-intay para makapaglaro ulit (This feels so fulfilling because I waited so long to be able to play again)."
Jeric Teng ended with 16 points and seven rebounds even as Karim Abdul chipped in with 14 markers and five boards, a far cry from his 24-point, 16-rebound output last Saturday, July 14.
On the other hand, Ravena finished with 19 points and five boards, Salva added 17 and eight, and Juami Tiongson dished out another brilliant performance with eight points, six rebounds, nine assists and two steals.