The hosts of the inaugural Basketball Africa League (BAL), Patriots BBC were on the brink of elimination on Thursday when Aristide Mugabe and Kenneth Gasana propelled them into the semi-finals.
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 might have an easy win. But that’s not what happened. Instead, the game was a nail-biting contest that could have gone either way.
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 French President Emmanuel Macron.
“It’s an honor for us to play in front our president, and, of course, he had a guest. We had to make sure we make him proud,” Mugabe said. “There was no way we would disappoint him. It’s like your father brought the guest, telling him, ‘My kid is doing well’ and you disappoint him. We are happy that we made him proud.”
The game had four lead changes in the last 10 minutes, but Mugabe and Gasana – the only Patriots to score in double figures – weren’t prepared to disappoint an almost sold-out Kigali Arena.
Gasana finished with a game-high 23 points on 7-for-13 shooting, including 4-of-9 from beyond the arc. Mugabe scored only six points off the bench in the first half but saved his best for after intermission. The Patriots captain finished with 18 points on a 6-for-9 performance from the three-point line.
Mugabe said the crowd helped drive his team to victory.
“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 in our toes. We are happy that we gave them the joy that they needed.”
The Patriots improved their BAL record to 3-1. In the semi-final they will take on US Monastir, a team they lost to in the group stages.
The Rwandan champions knew that stopping Masa would pay dividends.
The Spaniard didn’t score a single point in the first 10 minutes and had only five points with five turnovers by the end of the first half. His team trailed 42-39.
Masa did slightly better in the second half. He 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.
Several of his teammates also lost considerable playing time. Ferroviario big man Adjehi Baru was vital on both ends of the floor, but he too picked his third foul early in the fourth, forcing head coach Milagre Macome to bench him.
Inelcio Chire picked his second technical foul at the start of the fourth and was ejected. And Claudio Muchate, who contributed 11 points and four rebounds, fouled out with two minutes left.
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 give his team a 57-54 lead – their first of the second half.
The Patriots’ bench proved vital contributing 31 points Ferroviario’s bench tallied only 16. But carelessness with the ball also proved costly: Ferroviario had seven turnovers in the last 10 minutes.
The two BAL semi-finals are scheduled for Saturday, May 29.