What you need to know:
- The highly competitive game which would decide the eventual winner of Group "A" was attended by President Paul Kagame and First Lady Jeannette Kagame
- The Tunisian champions started slowly, allowing Patriots to take a 14-8 lead in the first seven minutes of play before staging a comeback to win the first quarter 24-20 in front of a passionate home crowd
- In another Group "A" tie, Nigeria’s Rivers Hoopers defeated Madagascar’s Gendarmerie Nationale Basketball (GNBC) 80-69 to keep alive their slim chances of progressing to the quarters as best losers
The Basketball Africa league (BAL) Saturday returned with some thrilling fixtures here at Kigali arena, after a rest day.
The Rwandan side, Patriots BBC tasted their first defeat in the BAL at the hands of the ruthless title contender, US Monastir of Tunisia losing 91-75.
The highly competitive game which would decide the eventual winner of Group "A" was attended by President Paul Kagame and First Lady Jeannette Kagame.
The Tunisian champions started slowly, allowing Patriots to take a 14-8 lead in the first seven minutes of play before staging a comeback to win the first quarter 24-20 in front of a passionate home crowd.
US Monastir extended their lead in the second quarter and at some point, they had an 18 points gap between them before Rwandan guard Kenny Gasana inspired a strong recovery to close the game to two points going into the break.
Gasana, who led the Patriots with 22 points, acknowledged that the game against US Monastir came at the right time to test their resilience heading into the quarter-finals.
“We knew it was going to be a difficult game because we all wanted to win the group. But it's such games that test your strengths as a team,” said Gasana.
Gasana was left “humbled and privileged” by the passion of the home fans and the presence of President Kagame and the First Lady who turned out to support the home team.
His sentiments were echoed by head coach, Alan Major.
“It's a big honour for us. We are very humbled with the President and First Lady in the stands,” said Major.
Coach Major has a big task at hand to work on the discipline of his players after three Patriots forwards, including Kenyan Bush Wamukota and Prince Ibeh, were given their marching orders for maximum five fouls.
Coach Major admitted that Patriots, “didn't play the best defence that we would like. That's where we are going to focus on.”
He added: "We can play a lot better. We have been together for weeks and Monastir has been together for four years. We can only improve.”
Patriots qualified for the BAL without a single loss, winning all their games on the road to the BAL final tournament.
US Monastir’s guard, Wael Arakji's game-high 28-point performance earned him the Player of the Game award.
It is fair to say that the Tunisian champion is a team to beat in the BAL.
However, coach Safouen Ferjani admitted that the Tunisian side needs to improve defensively if they are to win the tournament.
“Patriots is a very strong side and their physical presence tested our defence. We are taking one game at a time but we must improve on our defence,” Ferjani said.
In another Group "A" tie, Nigeria’s Rivers Hoopers defeated Madagascar’s Gendarmerie Nationale Basketball Club (GNBC) 80-69 to keep alive their slim chances of progressing to the quarters as best losers.
The Malagasy basketball club, GNBC became the first team to exit the inaugural Basketball Africa league after losing all their three games in the group.
Centre man Chris Daniels became the first Rivers Hoopers player to score a double-double in two successive games at the BAL.
Daniels posted 15 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks on 100% shooting from the field. He also recorded 25 points and 11 rebounds against US Monastir in their previous game.
“It was a good team effort,” Daniels said in a post-game presser. “We wanted a win to keep our chances but also show what we can do as a team,” he added.
Indeed it was a team effort for the Nigerian side with five players recording double-digit points, Daniels (15), Ben Uzoh (12), Benjamin Ikechukwu (12), Taren Sullivan (19), and Solomon Ajegbeyi (10)
“We played for the win and that is what we wanted. I knew we were going to get better every game we played. After the previous game, we went back and pushed each other in practice. The game plan was to make sure they (GNBC) did not get space to shoot because they are efficient,” said Rivers Hoopers head coach, Ogoh Adaudu.
Meanwhile, Ferroviario de Maputo of Mozambique dominated Groupement Sportif des Pétroliers (GSP) on Saturday evening 86-74 to leave the Algerian side on the brink of elimination.
This was GSP’s second successive loss after losing to Senegal’s AS Douanes 94-76 in Group "C" opener.
Ferroviario de Maputo joins Patriots, Monastir and Petro de Luanda among other teams to have made it into the quarters so far.
“We are happy to reach the quarter-finals,” said head coach Milagre Macome. “We are looking forward to seeing who our next opponent will be. We have a few adjustments and improvements to make but all in all we are happy with the result. We are growing in the offence, and learning to work as a team.”
The BAL continues this Sunday with Cameroon's FAP set to face Mali's A.S Police at 6:30pm EAT while Morocco's highflying AS Salé will play against Angola's Atlético Petróleos de Luanda in a mouth-watering clash at 10.00pm EAT.