Basketball Africa League (BAL) hosts Patriots BBC were on the brink of elimination on Thursday when Aristide Mugabe and Kenneth Gasana propelled them into the semi-finals with a narrow 73-71 win in front of illustrious guests.
The Patriots' 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 Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who attended the game alongside President Emmanuel Macron of France and Toronto Raptors boss Masai Ujiri.
"It's an honour for us to play in front our president, and, of course, he had a guest. We had to make sure we make him proud," Rwanda international 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."
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. Instead, the game was a nail-biting contest.
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' 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 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.