KIGALI, Rwanda -- The Basketball Africa League scriptwriters added a plot twist late in the season, with pre-tournament favourites Petro de Luanda, who had been undefeated till this point, losing 92-86 to AS Douanes in the semifinals.
The Angolan giants, who had finished third in the first edition and runners up last year, were widely expected to finally claim the crown in Kigali, especially after advancing from their Conference with ease. But the Senegalese side refused to follow that agenda.
Jean Jacques Boissy was the key for Douanes, scoring 16 of his 17 free throws and a game-high 28 points, as personal fouls littered the game. It was, for lack of a better word, scrappy, and free throws were constant on both sides, and Boissy's accuracy from the line was the obvious difference.
League free throw leader Boissy, speaking after the game, said of his performance: "It's a free throw for a reason, it's easy points. When I miss one I'm really mad at myself, so I'm really glad that I came up clutch [when it was needed]."
Douanes, who scraped into the playoffs by the skin of their teeth on the final day of the Sahara Conference in Dakar, were also driven by American veteran Chris Crawford, who scored all seven of his free throws and ended with 26 points.
JJ Boissy walks away with the @visitrwanda_now Player of The Game recognition after putting on a show for the crowd at the BK Arena.— Basketball Africa League (@theBAL) May 24, 2023
28 PTS 🔥#TheBAL pic.twitter.com/3mXhPw29Ja
The game started poorly for both sides, and neither could hit a beach ball with a tennis racket early in the first quarter, let alone the hoop, and Crawford's visible and vocal annoyance seemed to motivate his teammates.
One Douanes player who made the most of his time on the court was Great Britain's Matthew Bryan-Amaning, whose physicality and size shone through as he bulldozed his way through Petro's players. He took six shots and scored all of them, including two threes.
Petro, a side filled with highly experienced international players who have featured together for Angola's national team for years, seemed disconnected for much of the game, with senior players like Carlos Morais and Childe Dundao unable to combat the physical nature of Douanes' game.
Boissy added of his own defensive game, which he considers his 'forte': "My goal is to defend the best player on every team, tonight it was Carlos Morais, and I'm really proud of how well my defense went tonight".
It was hardly a blowout though, with Petro staying within three point range until the final minutes, when Boissy's successful free throws contrasted with Petro's missed efforts and the vocal Petro crowd finally went silent.
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Ater Majok, the former Los Angeles Lakers draftee who joined Petro from 2022 champions US Monastir for this season, scored nine points on the night in 16 minutes, and was visibly upset in the mixed zone after the game.
Majok said: "For me, it's very simple: you've got pitbulls, but you didn't let them off the leash. It was tough for me, because I was sitting on the bench, so all I could do was support."
Petro coach Jose Neto expressed remorse at his own tactics, perhaps like keeping Majok on the bench, adding: "Now is not the time to blame anyone, but if there's anyone to blame, it's me... I think we lost the game because we weren't able to impose our identity today."
Petro will contest the third place game on Friday, while Douanes advance to their first BAL final on Saturday, against everyone outside of Senegal's expectations.