The Games That Play Us: The Expendable

Ryan Buenafe led a sublime second half charge as Ateneo
defeated FEU to end the first round.


This whole game was a condensed version of the Season 73 match-up between these two teams.

In that season, FEU looked like they had Ateneo’s number. They beat the Eagles in both of their elimination round encounters (74-72 and 72-69). The Tamaraws grabbed first place and busted straight to the Finals after defeating the Green Archers, 69-59. They were favored to win it all and dethrone Ateneo. They had a veteran crew that was due to win. On the other end, the Eagles lost three key pieces of their championship core with the graduation of Rabeh Al-Hussaini, Nonoy Baclao, and Jai Reyes. They were far from invincible as they lost four games in the eliminations and won several games by just 5 points or less. This was supposed to be a transition year for them, a year where they weren’t the favorites to get a three-peat.

Thanks to Ryan Buenafe, the Ateneans did anyway.

And in this game, again thanks in no small part to Buenafe, the Ateneans managed to win after trailing for most of the match.

Ryan Buenafe has had an up-and-down time after hitting that memorable three-pointer with about 20 seconds to go in Game 2 of the Season 73 Finals. That was supposed to be the golden moment when his legend would be solidified and unquestioned.

The summer after that, however, led to a LOT of questions. Rumors swirled about him. He wasn’t seen in any preseason games. He was ultimately left out of the Season 74 roster.

This was the guy who was so heavily sought in the summer of 2008. This was the triple-double machine from San Sebastian who was supposed to change the fortunes of any team he joined in college, and he was nowhere to be found.

When he returned this year, a lot of casual fans no longer had fresh memories of those rumors. All they saw was the return of this sometimes-awesome, always-plump, bruiser. He was back, but the question was how would he mesh with the established big three of Nico Salva, Kiefer Ravena and Greg Slaughter?

The star reverted to a starlet’s role. The invaluable had seemingly become an expendable, and, for the first few games of the season, he played his part. He bided his time, just like in Season 73.

And, just like in Season 73, he struck when it really counted.

Buenafe played just 8 minutes in a first half where the Ateneans were uncharacteristically confounded. They let RR Garcia run wild as he got free for lay-ups, and was just making minced meat of the Blues’ backcourt resistance. Terrence Romeo and Anthony Hargrove carved up Ateneo’s insides, too. Both combined for 14 points in the first 20 minutes, with Romeo adding 2 steals and Hargrove grabbing 7 rebounds. In contrast, only Greg Slaughter was doing relatively well for Coach Norman Black. He had 10 points and 6 rebounds by halftime, but hardly anyone else produced the needed numbers. Ateneo was minus 10 in rebounding and had more than twice FEU’s turnovers. They didn’t look like champions, and the Tams were all too happy to spank their butts.

Things changed, however, in the second half. Coach Black inserted Buenafe and JP Erram mainly in place of Salva and Oping Sumalinog for most of the final 20 minutes. Immediately, the emphasis on size instead of speed paid dividends. Ateneo was still outrebounded by FEU in the second half, but not as much as the first. They also grabbed the edge in blocks as Slaughter and Erram swatted away two shots each. The main difference, though, was in FG shooting. The Blue & White shot 50% from the floor in the third and fourth periods, including two big treys from Juami Tiongson and one from Nico Elorde, while FEU was limited to just around 40%. The troika of Garcia, Romeo, and Hargrove combined for just 16 points compared to the 27 they unloaded in the first half.

Buenafe was a whirling dervish in these stanzas. He scored 8 of his 10 markers, and dished out all 4 of his assists in the final 20 minutes. He was the spark that helped Ateneo climb back, and, once again, he displayed proof that he was still every bit the fortune-changer he was billed to be coming out of high school.

He might look the part of an expendable, but if there’s really just one word that can describe him, it’s quite the opposite – invaluable.

*Kudos to the Tamaraws. They played one of their best games of the season. In terms of efficiency, Ateneo had a rating of 72 and FEU had 71. It cannot get any closer than that. If FEU can keep on being this efficient, then they can stick it to any team for sure. The dark side of this is that Terrence Romeo, despite being a clear offensive threat, finished with an efficiency rating of -1, mainly because of his 14 misses and 2 turnovers.

Juami Tiongson and JP Erram came up big for Ateneo as
the Eagles copped win number 6.

Mike Tolomia (L) and the rest of the Tamaraws almost
pulled the rug from under Kiefer Ravena and the Blue Eagles.


AdMU 74 – Slaughter 17, Tiongson 12, Ravena 12, Buenafe 10, Salva 6, Erram 6, Elorde 6, sumalinog 3, Chua 2, Gonzaga 0, Golla 0
FEU 71 – Garcia 21, Hargrove 12, Romeo 10, Bringas A 10, Bringas M 7, Belo 6, Tolomia 3, Pogoy 2, Sentcheu 0, Mendoza 0, Cruz 0
QS: 18-21, 27-37, 49-53, 74-71
Notable Performers:
Greg Slaughter (AdMU) – 17pts, 8rebs, 5blks, 3asts
JP Erram (AdMU) – 6pts, 9rebs, 2blks, 1stl
RR Garcia (FEU) – 21pts, 4asts, 3rebs, 3 treys

All images are by Philip Sison/
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