The University of the Philippines (UP) Fighting Maroons had an unfortunate start to the second round of the UAAP Season 81 men’s basketball tournament, as they get swept by defending champions Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU) Blue Eagles in the elims, 66-83, today, October 14, at the SM Mall of Asia Arena.

The Fighting Maroons opened the game with a different starting lineup that included Javi Gomez de Liano and Jerson Prado. This unit came swinging as UP was off to a 5-0 start in the game.

A stifling defense and good ball movement allowed UP to keep Ateneo at bay for most of the first quarter, 15-18.

State U kept this intensity throughout the second quarter, which saw five different lead changes. Bright Akhuetie came off the bench for the first time this season and scored eight points in the frame. However, it wasn’t enough to stop the Blue Eagles as they ended the first half with the, 35-29, lead.

The second half saw a resurgence from the Fighting Maroons despite trailing by as much as 10 points early on. Contributions from Akhuetie and Desiderio allowed UP to cut the lead to reach a deadlock, but Ateneo countered with a 6-0 run.

Much like UP’s last game against Ateneo, emotions ran high. Particularly in the fourth quarter, as a few contentious calls riled up the UP faithful which culminated in two technical fouls called against Javi Gomez de Liano, who was then ejected from the game.

Following Gomez de Liano’s ejection, UP couldn’t stop Ateneo from capitalizing on the loss, as UP committed a few crucial turnovers that spun the game in Ateneo’s favor.

UP attempted a few last ditch efforts, with Diego Dario scoring a deep three to end the game. However, UP ultimately fell short as the game ended with a 17-point deficit, score ended, 66-83.

Akhuetie was UP’s leading scorer, nabbing 20 points on an exceptional 80% shooting while Paul Desiderio added 16.

Ateneo star Thirdy Ravena was the highest scorer of the game, taking 21 points for his team.

Outside shooting also turned out to be a deciding factor in the game, with Ateneo scoring 24 of their points beyond the arc compared to UP’s six.

On his ejection, Gomez de Liano seemed frustrated with the calls saying, “they were two super light technical fouls.” But Gomez de Liano maintained that he needed to use the ejection as a learning experience. “I apologized to Coach Bo [Perasol], because it was my fault. I think the Ateneo momentum started when I got ejected. So I told Coach I was sorry, and that I’d bounce back from this and be a better player and person.”

Gomez de Liano also said he was confused by the calls as he’s always made sure to try and stay humble on the court.

“I’m known to be a clean player, because I used to get technicals all the time and it got to the point where I realized I shouldn’t be doing that. So I changed and I don’t really taunt anymore, and try to be humble on the court. So it’s super strange, because I never thought I’d see myself ejected in a UAAP game.”, he added.

The loss puts UP at a middling record of 3-5, but Coach Bo Perasol asserted that not all is lost for the Fighting Maroons.

“The only time we are going to feel like the season is slowly slipping away is when we stop. We still have six games, and we’re one game or two games away from the middle of the pack. We also have to be better. We can’t just say “laban, laban,” but we have to be truly better, to beat the teams that we go up against in the next few weeks.”, the mentor of the Maroons said.

Perasol added that “[my job is] to encourage my team that all is not lost yet. The day of reckoning is the day that’s going to be the last. And whatever that is, we just have to make sure that when we look back, we can tell ourselves that we did everything we can. “

Javi Gomez De Liano will not play in UP’s next game due to being thrown out of the game.

UP faces its next challenge on Sunday, October 21, as they square up against the University of the East Red Warriors, 4pm at FilOil Arena. TNP

Photo by Clarizzah Tualla

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