Cape Town Tigers shock top seeds FUS Rabat to reach BAL semifinals

Cape Town Tigers captain Samkelo Cele led from the front as the last-seeded Tigers upset top seeds FUS Rabat in the BAL quarterfinals in Kigali. Armand Lenoir/NBAE via Getty Images

KIGALI, Rwanda -- The top two seeds in the Basketball Africa League fell on Sunday as South Africa's Cape Town Tigers beat Morocco's FUS Rabat, and reigning champions Al Ahly of Egypt were knocked out by Libyan namesake Al Ahly Benghazi.

The results were certainly unexpected by fans at the arena in Kigali, with Tigers barely scraping into this leg of the tournament, and then being seeded last of the eight sides on display. Their 91-88 overtime win was certainly their best ever in the tournament.

The first half of the Tigers game saw the teams neck-and-neck throughout, fighting for the lead. FUS led 17-15 after the first quarter but were slow out of the blocks in the second. The Tigers held a slender advantage heading towards the 15-minute break before a Ken Brown three levelled the scores. However, Ngor Manyang fired back with a three of his own to send the South African champions into half-time 44-41 up.

The Tigers started the third quarter strongest, taking a 49-41 lead before back-to-back threes from Brown and Soufiane Benmhine and a bucket from Mohamed Sylla put Rabat in front. Dhieu Deing hit back with a three of his own to restore the Tigers lead.

The teams traded blows in the late stages of the third quarter. The Tigers held a narrow lead when Samkelo Cele produced one of the plays of the day, making a steal, charging up the court and spinning through the Rabat defense for the bucket. That sent Florsh Ngwenya's charges into the final quarter 63-59 up.

A monstrous dunk from Aliou Diarra to cut the lead to 65-62 appeared to have put the wind back into Rabat's sails but Cartier Diarra responded with a three shortly afterwards to make it 68-64 to the TIgers.

Rabat cut the deficit in half again before the Tigers lost Deing to an injury. The Tigers regrouped as he was stretchered off and Cele and Nathi Sibanyoni each got buckets.

A rattled Rabat fought to find their way back into the game. A crucial three-pointer from Yacine Baeri cut the Tigers lead to 80-78 with under a minute to spare. A bucket from Abdelhakim Zouita then levelled the scores and John Jordan's free throw put Rabat back in front.

Rabat extended the lead to 83-80 and all hope appeared lost before Cele once again charged up the court and hit a spectacular three to level up with only a single second remaining in the fourth quarter, sending the game to overtime.

The teams traded blows again and the Tigers led 89-88 with 59.4 seconds left on the clock. Rabat got the ball and ran it up the floor but couldn't find the basket and Abdoulaye Ndoye beat Aliou Diarra to the rebound. Cele ran it back at Rabat and won a foul, hitting a free throw with 23.6 seconds to spare.

Some great work at both ends of the floor saw Cele win a foul and sink another free throw with only two seconds left. Rabat were three down and had one final shot to take it to overtime, which Jordan missed.

The Tigers became the first South African team to make the semi-finals of the BAL after back-to-back quarter-final losses in 2022 and 2023. Cele was the star of the night with 30 points but the impact of Nathi Sibanyoni, who set a BAL record with 25 rebounds and also scored 16 points, cannot be understated.

Earlier, Deng was the kingmaker in the early stages of the Ahly clash as Ahly Benghazi took a 15-14 first quarter lead. As the game progressed, Lual-Acuil and Robert Golden each took turns leading the offense too. Ahly Benghazi led 38-36 at half-time.

Ahly Benghazi came out flying in the third quarter to take a 47-36 lead, capping off a 12-point scoring run which started late in the second.

Agustí Julbe's men fought back, but still trailed 55-49 heading into the final quarter. Ahly Benghazi started that off on the front foot too and fought off a late comeback attempt to claim an 86-77 win.

Deng finished with 25 points and 9 rebounds, Lual-Acuil with 23 points and 11 rebounds and Golden with 23 points and 9 assists.

In Wednesday's semi-finals, Ahly Benghazi will face the winner of the game between Rivers Hoopers and US Monastir on Monday, while the Tigers will face either Petro de Luanda or AS Douanes.