Rwandan Champions Patriots Basketball Club and US Monastir are through to the Basketball Africa League (BAL) semifinals and will face each other on Saturday.
In a nail-biting search for the Semifinals berth, Patriots BBC overcame a spirited Ferroviario du Maputo of Mozambique 73-71.
The quarterfinal encounter kept thousands of fans on their feet.
Patriots started strong, with Rwandan shooting guard Keneth Gasana hitting bucket after bucket, and at the end of the first quarter, Rwandan-American Kenneth Gasana taking the team to a comfortable 8-points lead.
Gasana, 36, recorded a game-high 23 points on 7-for-13 shooting, including 4-of-9 from beyond the arc.
Gasana also had 5 rebounds and one assist in 38 minutes and 8 seconds spent on the court.
Until the break, the Rwandan side looked like they were going to win it easily—working as a team and being consistent with moving the ball to get into the paint.
But the Mozambican side, Ferroviario, staged a comeback.
End of the third quarter, Patriots were trailing Ferroviario by 3 points.
At one moment, Patriots, the hosts of the BAL, looked like were on the brink of elimination on Thursday night. But coach Alan Major introduced his captain, Aristide Mugabe, from the bench and it paid off.
Point guard Mugabe was prolific in his scoring and he stood up to be counted where it mattered most for the home side posting 18 points on a 6-for-9 performance from the three-point line.
Mugabe, 33, who played 18 minutes and 29 seconds also recorded 4 rebounds, 2 assists and 1 steal to carry his team to the BAL semifinals.
“We put our heart out for the game against Maputo. It was a total team effort,” said coach Major, Patriots Head coach.
The Patriots 73-71 victory wasn’t decided until the last two seconds of the game when Gasana made one of his two free-throws, sending the already enthusiastic home crowd into a frenzy. The excited fans included Rwanda President Paul Kagame, who attended the game alongside the French President Emmanuel Macron.
Patriots guard Mugabe said, “We knew they (Ferroviario) were going to be tough because we played against them in Division East BAL Qualifiers and they gave us hard time. But you cannot take it away from the boys (Patriots teammates) for the hard work they put in to win this game.”
When quizzed if the presence of President Kagame and President Macron in the stands put them under immense pressure, Mugabe said, “It’s an honour for us to play in front our president, and, of course, he had a guest (President Macron). We had to make sure we make him proud.
“There was no way we would disappoint him. It’s like your father bringing a guest, telling him, ‘My kid is doing well’ and you disappoint him. We are happy that we made him proud.”
Mugabe reserved special praises for the home fans admitting that “The energy [in the arena] was high. We can’t thank enough our fans. They gave us extra energy when we needed them the most, especially in the last four to five minutes of the game. They kept us on our toes. We are happy that we gave them joy.”
With Ferroviario de Maputo’s prolific scorer Alvaro Masa - who averaged a team-high 22.3 points per game in their first three games - struggling to get baskets, it seemed as if the Patriots defence had done the job right.
But Ferroviario de Maputo had to find alternatives and reserve Hugo Martins came up strong. He sank a three-pointer that pulled his team within one point (54-53) with 2:10 minutes left in the third quarter.
Muchate followed soon after with another three-pointer that gave his team a 57-54 lead – their first of the second half.
Masa finished the game with 12 points and nine rebounds but spent considerable time on the bench after picking up his third foul early in the third quarter.
Ferroviario’s captain Milagre Macome blamed the team’s loss to short time for preparations and not having a highly competitive league in Mozambique.
“It's very important to take lessons from these games. We have to focus on having a professional league in Mozambique to give players more experience and pursue a full time career as basketball professionals, then we can fairly compete at a professional level like this,” Macome said.
The Thursday night game was a star studded game, also attended by Masai Ujiri, the President of Toronto Raptors who are the 2019 NBA champions, along with new NBA Africa entity investors Tunde Folawiyo, Chairman and CEO of Yinka Folawiyo Group, former Washington Wizards star Ian Mahinmi, and Chicago Bulls star Joakim Noah, among others.
In the earlier played quarterfinal games on Thursday, Tunisia’s US Monastir defeated AS Douanes of Senegal 86-62 to advance to the BAL semifinals.
US Monastir are yet to lose a game in the BAL and the Tunisian side is already being looked at as a likely champion of the inaugural season of the Basketball Africa League.
But before getting to the finals, US Monastir will take on Rwanda’s Patriots, a team they defeated in the group stages.