Al Ahly knocked Basketball Africa League playoff hosts Rwanda Energy Group (REG) out of the NBA-affiliated tournament in Kigali on Saturday, with a convincing 94-77 quarterfinal win.
The triumph for the Egyptian side, playing in front of a packed crowd that included Rwanda President Paul Kagame, set up a semifinal against Mali’s Stade Malien, who had knocked the CapeTown Tigers out of the tournament earlier that day.
Big men Omar Oraby and Pitchou Manga were always going to be influential for their respective sides but Ahly’s Michael “Juice” Thompson was also one of the standout players in the first quarter, at the end of which Ahly led 23-18.
Ahly began to pull away at the start of the second quarter despite the crowd getting behind the hosts. Ehab Amin, a persistent threat on the fast break, was on fire for the Egyptian champions, who led 46-32 at half-time.
REG started the second half with a five-point scoring run and the crowd rallied behind them once again, helping them pull back to 47-42.
However, each time the hosts piled the pressure on Ahly, they were met with equal force. Agustí Julbe’s men led 67-53 by the end of the third quarter, and Ahly saw out the win without much fuss in the final 10 minutes.
REG coach Dean Murray admitted his side were their own worst enemies on the night:
“They’re a solid team, but we could have won the game for sure if we played a little bit better, but we’ve got to take it and move forward.”
Meanwhile, Julbe hailed his team’s businesslike approach, saying:
“We don’t celebrate much, we don’t party much. We just have focus and probably think already on the next game.
“Sometimes, I tell my players that we should celebrate a little bit more, but it’s good also that we contain our emotions and think that nothing is done by winning this game against REG.”
Sunday’s quarterfinals see Senegal’s AS Douanes take on Mozambique’s CFV Beira, and after that tournament favourites Petro de Luanda of Angola face ABC Fighters of Ivory Coast.