Without question, Matt Nieto was the hero in Ateneo-Philippines' inspiring win over the Chinese Taipei national team on Saturday with his booming go-ahead triple. But the point guard also knows the value of a good play and the importance of team execution.
"I'm so happy but I have to give credit to my teammates and coaches especially coach Tab (Baldwin) for coming up with a brilliant play, and George (Go) for that solid screen and Thirdy (Ravena) for that terrific pass," he gleefully said after the Chooks-to-Go powered Blue Eagles got the 77-76 victory over the home team.
With 3.1 seconds left on the clock and Ateneo down by one, Ateneo executed an out of bounds play to perfection. A huge screen by Isaac Go prevented not one, but two opposing players, as Nieto sneaked his way from the opposite end all the way to the corner three-point line. Ravena whipped the long pass right into Nieto's shooting pocket and the rest was history.
Before the beautiful play and Nieto's cold-blooded triple, the young Blue Eagles showed great resolve and poise throughout the game inside a hostile environment. The Xinzhuang Gym in Taiwan was packed with adoring fans and they made sure they made their presence felt every single play.
"It was our first time to play with a crowd like that," recalled Nieto. "The whole arena wasn't on our side so there's a bit of pressure but at the same time we were excited because you don't get an opportunity like this often."
"We needed to get our confidence through our teammates and coaches on the bench," he added.
Despite the unrelenting crowd, the only collegiate team in the tournament did not flinch during the big moment. They stood their ground against a national team, who less than a month ago, faced the Philippines' very own Gilas Pilipinas.
Ateneo's huge test came actually right before Nieto's game-winner. With time winding down, a foul was called on Ravena against Chen Ying-Chun, sending the Chinese Taipei forward to the line. It was an unfortunate call that could have doomed the Philippines, but even then, the young team did not fret.
"Actually it was coach Tab and coach Sandy (Arespacochaga) who told us to regroup and stay focused," relayed the point guard. "Just focus on the next play that we were going to do because that previous play is over and we have to move on."
With focus and determination, the Blue Eagles came out of the timeout and ran the play that led to Nieto's shot.
"We were so happy in the dugout because it wasn't just Ateneo who won, but the entire Philippines," Nieto shared.
Ateneo-Philippines has one more game left on their schedule when they take on Iran B on Sunday.
"We will just give our hundred percent effort like we normally do in our games," Nieto confidently said. "And just do our job on the court. And then the rest will take care of themselves"