Eagles turn back Archers to take Game 1

Eagles turn back Archers to take Game 1

Ateneo de Manilae University's Matt (left) and Mike Nieto | File Photo

MANILA, Philippines — The questions buzzed around the Blue Eagles on Saturday. Were they mature enough to finally take on the reigning champion Green Archers? Were they mentally prepared to finally get over the Finals hump?

In a game played at a breakneck pace — one that seemed to have more physical contact than a mixed martial arts match — Ateneo de Manila answered all that and more when they fended off De La Salle University, 76-70 to draw first blood in the UAAP men’s basketball finals.

Eagles turn back Archers to take Game 1

For the Blue Eagles, who managed to weather a furious rally by the titleholders, it was a tale of two Mikes. The other half of the famed Nieto twins made his presence felt in the second half after a quiet first half and shortly after his brother Matt suffered a cut to the left brow just before the intermission of the affair at the Mall of Asia Arena.

The stocky forward tallied baskets in succession to help Ateneo hold fort in the third period. It was as if he was reliving his juniors rivalry with Aljun Melecio who assumed the spearhead of De La Salle’s offense.

Isaac Go, who bailed Ateneo past Far Eastern U earlier this week, put the icing in the cake, hitting a lefty hook and making the extra basket to make a 76-70 edge with 10.4 remaining.

Mike Nieto finished the game with 11 markers, second to Thirdy Ravena’s 12 points.

Melecio paced De La Salle with 24.

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The victory paints a stark contrast to last year’s series where the Taft-based squad first secured a win. The Archers went on to win Game Two en route their first championship in two years.

Game Two of the Finals will be played at the Smart Araneta Coliseum on Wednesday.