BAL: Rivers Hoopers seal double OT win over APR to secure historic playoffs berth

BAL: D’Tigers Eke lifts Rivers Hoopers past AS Douanes in Sahara Conference

Nigerian champions Rivers Hoopers showed huge resilience and a strong will at the Dakar Arena on Saturday to see off Armée Patriotique Rwandaise (APR) 78-71 after double overtime in the Sahara Conference of the ongoing Basketball Africa League.

The King’s Men, who journeyed to Senegal as one of the underdogs in the conference, got their fourth win in five games to seal a berth in the competition’s playoffs and etch their names in the history books as the first Nigerian team to do so.

The Hoopers entered the game against APR knowing that a win secured them a place in the playoffs, and although they had a double-figure deficit in the fourth quarter, the Nigerian side dug deep to ward off their stubborn Rwandan opponent to get a ticket to the BAL playoffs slated for the BK Arena in Kigali, Rwanda, from May 24-June 1.

APR needed the win to keep their hopes of advancing to the playoffs in their debut season alive, and they started the game with so much seriousness, forcing a 19-16 lead after the first quarter. The Hoopers made timely adjustments to take the second quarter 15-11 and head into halftime with a one-point lead.

However, the Rwandan champions would not just go away without a fight, holding the King’s Men to just ten points in the third quarter, in which they scored 20. They increased the lead in the fourth to double figures, but the Hoopers clawed back from the brink of defeat to tie the game at 58-58.

Rivers Hoopers kicked off overtime with an early six-point lead, but a few turnovers helped APR back into the game and forced the tie to another turnover for the first time in the Sahara Conference.

The Nigerian side were in cruise control once more in second overtime, racing to a five-point lead with the game at 70-65, but a 3-pointer from Jean-Jacques Nshobozwabyosenumukiza cut the lead down to two. Peter Olisemeka made a layup, and Kelvin Amayo, who struggled from the free throw line, hit one of two free throws either side of another 3-pointer from APR by Axel Mpoyo to keep the Hoopers’ lead at two points.

Mpoyo almost tied it again for APR, but Olisemeka came up big with a vital block for the Nigerians, who got the win thanks to two clutch free throws from Will Perry and a three from Amayo.

Olisemeka stuffed the stat sheet as he finished with 17 points, a game-high 19 rebounds, five assists, and three blocks. Devin Eke led all scorers with a game-high 18 points as well as 18 rebounds; John Wilkins had 14 points, 6 rebounds, and four 3s; Amayo ended with 13 points; and Perry poured in eleven points along with 7 assists.

Ogoh Odaudu’s men were poor from the free throw line as they went 13-of-28, but they were solid on defense, winning the rebound game with 62-49 rebounds. Although they turned the ball over more (23-20), the Hoopers registered more points from turnovers (25-22) and got more fast break points (12-7) than the Rwandan champions.

APR, who lost two of their starters and leading scorers, Noel Obadiah and Adonis Filer, to injuries in the first half, were led by Darius Hunt’s 15 points, 14 rebounds, and 8 assists. Nshobozwabyosenumukiza scored a team-high 16 points and four 3s, and he was instrumental on the defensive end with five steals; Mpoyo had 13 points and 10 rebounds; and Ntore Habimana also added 13 points off the bench.

The conference-leading Rivers Hoopers are through to the playoffs with four wins and a defeat after five games, while APR, who currently have two wins and three losses, are still in second place pending the result from the game between AS Douanes and US Monastir.

The two teams will be in action again on the final day of the Sahara Conference, Sunday, May 12, with the King’s Men up against Tunisian champions US Monastir, while APR will take on AS Douanes.

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