Rivers Hoopers, Cape Town Tigers knocked out in BAL semifinals

Rivers Hoopers failed to capitalise on Kelvin Amayo's impressive first quarter. Nacer Talel/NBAE via Getty Images

Libya's Al Ahly Benghazi and Angola's Petro de Luanda will contest the final of the 2024 Basketball Africa League (BAL) on Saturday, June 1 after beating Nigeria's Rivers Hoopers and South Africa's Cape Town Tigers respectively on Wednesday in two agonisingly close contests.

Many games at this year's BAL -- particularly those involving Rivers Hoopers, who started off the night against Ahly Benghazi -- had been won and lost on defense.

However, for the early stages of their semifinal clash, there was more offensive spark. Jo Lual-Acuil and Robert Golden led the scoring for Ahly Benghazi in the first quarter as they took a 27-21 lead, despite Kelvin Amayo keeping Rivers Hoopers in the game with 12 first quarter points -- the most of any player in the game over that period.

Despite Amayo's brilliance and another solid night for Will Perry, Ahly Benghazi maintained their superiority in the second quarter and led 48-37 at half-time.

Rivers Hoopers surprisingly fought back in the third quarter and with 2:24 left, a bucket from Peter Olisemeka tied the game at 56-56. Rivers Hoopers then fought their way in front with the help of another impressive performance from BAL Elevate player Ike David Ugonna, heading into the fourth quarter 60-56 ahead.

Devine Eke was increasingly influential as the game progressed, but Ahly Benghazi rallied together with Lual-Acuil leading the troops and the Libyan champions regained the lead in the fourth quarter. However, Rivers Hoopers took it right back and the teams traded blows until the end, eventually going to overtime tied at 73-73 after Perry missed the last shot of the quarter.

Ahly Benghazi were out of the blocks strongest in overtime and Lual-Acuil delivered a monstrous dunk over the head of Olisemeka to make it 80-75 with just over three minutes left.

With just over 46 seconds left, Devine Eke hit a crucial three to narrow the deficit to 84-81 and keep Rivers Hoopers in the hunt.

However, the experience of Ahly Benghazi's senior players enabled them to see out the game as they saw out an 89-83 win to book their final berth. Lual-Acuil was the game's top scorer with 27 points, while Golden got 20. Amayo scored 26 for Rivers Hoopers and Eke 25.

"Nobody in this room gave us the chance. Nobody thought we were going to be here today and here we are. It's quite unfortunate that the fairytale run just ended, but we are still holding our heads high up and we are going to try come back and all worth it by trying to take the bronze medal here," said Rivers Hoopers head coach Ogoh Odaudu.

In the late tip-off, the Tigers got off to a strong start with Samkelo Cele pulling the strings, but Petro pushed them all the way through the first quarter, which the Tigers edged.

A three from Nick Faust put Petro 20-18 in front early in the second and he did not waste time before getting another to give the Angolan champions some breathing space. The lead continued to change hands as the quarter progressed.

Petro took a 43-37 lead into half-time with Faust's impressive three-point shooting the difference between the sides.

Strength in depth made the difference as the Tigers struggled to keep the tempo up in the third quarter and fell 66-55 behind.

In the fourth quarter, Petro initially maintained the lead and were 73-62 up with 5:59 on the clock, but the Tigers then had a passage of play where everything was landing for them. Cele's shot from long range reduced the deficit to 73-68 and then a Brian Bridgeforth bucket after the subsequent timeout cut the lead to three.

When Nathi Sibanyoni sank a bucket with 2:21 left on the clock, it was back to a one-point game and Petro were fighting for their lives, scrambling to avoid yet another near miss in their quest for the elusive BAL crown.

With 1:32 left, Markeith Cummings won a foul and landed both of his free throws to stem the tide.

Cele hit a free throw to cut the lead to 75-73 but Petro executed smart game management strategy as they wound the clock down and won a foul. Faust hit two out of the three subsequent free throws to put Petro four points up with 42 seconds to go.

The Tigers chipped away at the lead slowly and then all at once. At 77-75, a Sibanyoni free throw came off the rim only for Cele to win a foul with 2.6 seconds to go and hit both his free throws to tie the game at 77-77.

Lukeny Gonçalves went for a late buzzer-beater from long range, but could not execute and a second successive Tigers game went to overtime.

Overtime began with another three-point attempt from Gonçalves -- this one perfect. That set the tone for what ultimately ended up being an eight-point scoring run.

Try as they might, the Tigers could not find their way back and ultimately succumbed 96-86.

The Tigers will face Rivers Hoopers for third place on Friday before Season 4 comes to a climax on Saturday at the BK Arena, which has hosted all the playoff games for the fourth successive year.