Ateneo's key players Matt Nieto and Thirdy Ravena were both on the bench in the endgame of the Blue Eagles' 63-60 loss to the FEU Tamaraws on Wednesday.
Nieto only played for seven minutes due to an apparent finger injury that he sustained in the second quarter. Ravena, on the other hand, fouled out with still three minutes remaining in the contest.
While it's unusual that the two veterans were not on the floor to close out the game, Ateneo head coach Tab Baldwin refused to make a big deal out of it.
"I don't think that we ever want to look at it that way," he said. "We believe in our roster and we expect our roster to come through and get the job done when they're called on no matter what the circumstances are."
Angelo Kouame and Mike Nieto held the fort down the stretch, pulling the Blue Eagles within a single possession after the Tamaraws climbed back from a 15-point deficit and stole the momentum with their blistering second-half run. Adrian Wong, however, missed a highly-contested 3-point basket at the buzzer, which allowed FEU to complete their come-from-behind victory.
"It didn't have anything to do with who replaced those guys," Baldwin continued. "You have to have the confidence to step up in that situation and we believe in our players. We believe in our depth."
Instead, the Kiwi-American coach admitted that the team simply misfired throughout the contest. The Blue Eagles only shot 29.7 percent from the field, 16.1 percent from downtown, and 64.7 percent from the free throw line.
"Tonight we just weren't good enough," he said. "We just didn't hit shots. We got 74 shots to their 51, and we shot 17 free throws to their 11. What do you want in life? You want opportunities. We had ample opportunities, we just didn't get it done."
Baldwin also credited the Tamaraws' defensive intensity, which held Ateneo to its lowest output in the last two seasons.
"FEU played great defense and played a better game than us," he said. "They're not as highly-rated defensively as they are for nothing. They have one of the best defenses in the UAAP. Today, their defense was the winner and we were the loser."
The Blue Eagles still managed to put themselves in a good position to win because they worked hard to get extra possessions, but their offensive struggles caught up with them in the end.
"Our offense was really lacking but certainly the effort was there," said Baldwin. "I don't think you can play a game and force 27 turnovers and get 19 offensive rebounds and feel bad about your effort. We feel good about our effort, we just didn't hit shots."
The defending champions just suffered their second loss of the season for a 5-2 slate, tied with the Tamaraws in second place. On Sunday, they will open the second round with a battle against the UP Fighting Maroons, who are also coming off a painful loss at the hands of the UST Growling Tigers.
"UP's a very good team but obviously they had a very poor outing today," said Baldwin. "So you got two teams that are hurting after you lose. A lot of proud, talented players on both teams, so I suspect this is gonna be a tough game."