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Nieto twins star as Blue Eagles hold off Green Archers

Displaying a masterful performance against their archrival, the Ateneo Blue Eagles came away with an 81-69 victory over the De La Salle Green Archers in the UAAP Season 82 Sunday at the Araneta Coliseum.

Twins Mike and Matt Nieto led the charge, scoring 18 points and 15 points respectively. The Blue Eagles built a 22-point halftime lead that set the tone for the win. The Green Archers, despite fighting back late in the contest and cutting the lead to single-digits, fell short in their season debut. Gian Mamuyac spoiled La Salle's comeback bid, pouring in eight of his 14 points in the final frame. Last season's Rookie of the Year Angelo Kouame only had six points but collected 19 rebounds.

"This is a typical Ateneo-La Salle game," said Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin. "It was tough every step of the way. I think that break we had at the end of the second quarter was a surprise to us and it was a surprise for them, and in the end it was the cushion I think that we depended on in the second half."

The defending champions put on a clinic at the tail end of the second quarter and unleashed a back-breaking 21-1 run. From a two-point lead, they flexed their way to 22-point halftime advantage. Led by the Nieto twins, the Blue Eagles gained control and ruthlessly executed on both ends of the floor during the decisive stretch. They outscored the Green Archers, 28-8, holding them to just 17 percent field goal shooting in the quarter.

La Salle put up a gallant fight to start the game. For the first 10 minutes, the Green Archers lived up to the billing of the rivalry, standing toe-to-toe against the Blue Eagles. Jaime Orme-Malonzo, one of the newly-recruited Filipino-foreigners, also matched the hype as he delivered a hammer dunk on Thirdy Ravena. Unfortunately, they could not sustain the momentum and succumbed to Ateneo's onslaught in the second period.

The Green Archers regained their form in the fourth quarter. A 3-pointer from Andrei Caracut cut the deficit to eight points, 75-67, with two and a half minutes remaining. Ateneo's lead was saved by the late-game heroics of Mamuyac. The defensive specialist busted out his offensive game just in time for the Blue Eagles.

Malonzo finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds in his UAAP debut. Caracut added 14 points and five assists and Justine Baltazar contributed a double-double of 10 points and 12 rebounds.

"I thought there's a lot for us to work on," said Baldwin. "We shot the ball very poorly, our offensive cohesion isn't anything like it needs to be. I'm pretty disappointed in that, I think that's a reflection of me as much as anything else and it's gotta be fixed. But again, overall, the defense was tough. It was aggressive. We covered a lot of mistakes when we made mistakes with effort and of course, having Kouame out there. While he's out there, that makes your defense pretty tough."

Ateneo rises to 2-0 while La Salle flounders in its season debut. The Blue Eagles take on the similarly undefeated UST Growling Tigers on Wednesday while the Green Archers hope to bounce back versus the UE Red Warriors on Saturday.

BOX SCORES

ATENEO 81 - Nieto Mi 18, Nieto Ma 15, Mamuyac 14, Navarro 8, Andrade 6, Kouame 6, Ravena 6, Tio 4, Belangel 2, Go 2, Daves 0, Maagdenberg 0

LA SALLE 69 - Malonzo 18, Caracut 14, Baltazar 10, Serrano 8, Melecio 7, Lojera 6, Manuel 6, Bartlett 0, Bates 0, Cagulangan 0, Cu 0, Hill 0, Meeker 0, Pado 0

QUARTER SCORES: 23-21, 51-29, 66-50, 81-69

EXTRA DRIBBLES

- Ateneo's Gian Mamuyac scored a career-high on Sunday despite feeling ill the past two days.

- The Blue Eagles only shot 32.5 percent from the field. However, they had a 60-51 rebounding edge. They also capitalized their shots at the charity stripe, going 20-for-22.

- Keys Meeker and James Pado, the other highly-touted recruits of La Salle, played a combined 11 minutes and went scoreless.