The De La Salle Green Archers erased a 21-point deficit to turn back the Ateneo Blue Eagles, 92-83, and force a winner-take-all Game Three in the UAAP Season 80 finals on Wednesday at SMART-Araneta Coliseum.
On the brink of getting dethroned, La Salle had trailed 49-28 in the second quarter of Game Two attended by 15,286 fans.
But a huge second half performance by Ben Mbala and Ricci Rivero helped the defending champions overcome the deficit and turn the tables on their rivals.
The two-time MVP scored 20 points and 16 boards while Rivero added 18 points, five boards and four assists despite battling foul trouble.
Game Three is set on Sunday.
The Blue Eagles waxed hot in the first period behind the sizzling shooting of Anton Asistio who fired three triples in the opening quarter to propel Ateneo to a commanding 32-15 lead.
Ateneo’s lead ballooned to as many as 21 points. But right before the break, La Salle dropped a 14-2 bomb ignited by an Mbala slam and Aljun Melecio’s six straight points to make it a nine-point game, 51-42, at the half.
The Green Archers continued their onslaught in the third quarter, with Rivero repeatedly slicing through Ateneo’s defense to collect eight points in that period and Mbala reasserting his might.
An Mbala fastbreak layup handed La Salle a 60-58 lead which it never relinquished. The Green Archers outscored Ateneo, 26-8, in the third frame.
Behind the resurgent Mbala, La Salle pulled away in the final canto and shut down Ateneo to stay alive in the short series.