BAL 2024: Rivers Hoopers suffer OT defeat to Libya’s Al Ahly in playoff semifinals

BAL 2024: Get to know Rivers Hoopers & the seven other teams competing in the playoffs 

History-makers Rivers Hoopers finally hit the end of the road in their pursuit of a first-ever Basketball Africa League title following an 89-83 overtime loss to Libyan side Al Ahly Benghazi on Wednesday.

The King’s Men, who are the first Nigerian team to play a semi-final game at the BAL, just fell short at the BK Arena in Kigali, Rwanda, despite rallying from an 11-point deficit halfway through the encounter.

Kelvin Amayo led the Port Harcourt-based side with 26 points, 15 rebounds, and six assists; and D’Tigers forward Devine Eke got another double-double as he finished with 25 points, 12 rebounds, and five assists.

The Hoopers didn’t get off to the best of starts, as they were behind by as much as ten points in the early parts of the first quarter, which they eventually lost 27-21. The second quarter wasn’t much different, with the Libyans benefiting primarily from fast break points due to the King’s Men’s inability to make decisive buckets, with the lead eventually increasing to eleven points (48-37) heading into the halftime break.

Ogoh Odaudu, head coach of the Rivers Hoopers, who was looking rather disappointed throughout the first half, made adjustments that seemed to pay off as the Nigerians came back fighting to take the third quarter 23-8, swinging the game in their favour heading into the fourth quarter with a four-point lead.

The final quarter was tightly contested, with both teams trading buckets, but a couple of turnovers by the Hoopers put Al Ahly Benghazi back in the game. Nonetheless, the Nigerian champions had the opportunity to win the game late in the quarter with about 16 seconds left, but a missed jumper from Will Perry and a bad inbound pass from Eke left the game tied at 73-73.

The Hoopers returned to making the same mistakes they made earlier in the game in overtime, providing the Libyans with the chance to win the round 16-10 and progress to the BAL final in their first season in the tournament.

Perry finished with 16 points and five assists; 16-year-old BAL Elevate player David Ike added 10 points and seven rebounds; and Peter Olisemeka uncharacteristically settled for just four points and nine rebounds in a losing effort for the Hoopers.

Meanwhile, South Sudan-born Lual Lual Acuil led the Al Ahly Benghazi with a game-high 27 points along with seven rebounds. American guard Robert Golden finished with 20 points, six rebounds, and five assists. Kevin Murphy got 13 points before he fouled out; Majok Deng had 10 points and 13 rebounds, while Ivorian guard Souleyman Diabate, who is a two-time BAL champion, poured in nine points and grabbed out eight boards off the bench.

Rivers Hoopers will have the opportunity to become the first Nigerian team to win a medal at the BAL when they face the Cape Town Tigers of South Africa in the third-place match on Friday, May 31, while Petro de Luanda, who beat the Tigers 96-86 after overtime in the other semifinal, will face Al Ahly Benghazi in the final on Saturday, June 1, at the BK Arena.

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