With University of Santo Tomas trailing by 15 points against Ateneo at halftime, it was expected for star backcourt duo of Jeric Teng and Jeric Fortuna to lift the Tigers to a comeback.
The Tigers did claw, taking a 58-54 lead after the third quarter. But it was neither of the two Jerics who lifted UST back. Instead, it was unheralded returning forward Aljon Mariano.
“Sobrang hinihintay ko na nga ito,” said Mariano, who fired 15 of his 21 points in that period, highlighted by nine consecutive points to give the Tigers the lead.
It was a stellar performance for Mariano, who sat out last year after fracturing his ankle, which forced him out of action for six months. But he was grateful that he finally regained his form.
“Kailangan malakas yung impact ko pagbalik ko,” he said.
UST coach Pido Jarencio has always been a believer in Mariano. However, he believes the third-year forward needs to do it day-in and day-out.
“Breakout game ito ni Aljon,” Jarencio said. “Consistency na lang kailangan niya.”
Mariano said that he was inspired when he learned that UST had not won its last 12 matches against Ateneo before their 71-70 win Thursday afternoon. Before the game, he also heard that Blue Eagles coach Norman Black will keep an eye on him all throughout, making him more determined to play the best game of his young career.
“Sobrang tagal na yung drought namin sa Ateneo,” Mariano said. “Pinaghandaan ko rin ito at pinatunayan kong kaya namin.”