3 has become the magic number for Forces Armeés et Police (FAP).
A three-point loss (73-70) against Cape Town Tigers last month in the Nile Conference has been FAP’s most painful defeat in 2022 Basketball Africa League (BAL).
But Saturday’s three-point win (66-63) against Rwanda Energy Group (REG) was their sweetest victory in the BAL so far.
The win not only saw FAP improve their record to 3-3, but they also became the second team to qualify to the 2022 BAL Semi-Finals, where they will take on Petro de Luanda of Angola.
Excessive 3-pt attempts when REG had plenty of time to fight back turned out to be their downfall, head coach Robert Pack later admitted.
“We didn’t have to live off threes,” the former NBA player turned coach admitted.
“It was tempting. You got the ball in the hands of good three-point shooters and they kept taking wide open looks. It wasn’t just our night. We talked about going to the basket. Those threes presented themselves, but it wasn’t necessary [to take them].”
“We didn’t handle the pressure in some situations well. We didn’t make the simple plays. We did things that weren’t necessary.”
REG had a short-lived two-point lead early in the game, but as much as they tried, the Rwandan champions never regained the lead again.
With an almost full capacity Kigali Arena, REG players struggled to deliver. And missing successive shots wasn’t particularly reassuring.
Cleveland Thomas Jr was a one-man show for most of the contest for REG.
By the end of the opening quarter, Thomas had 12 of REG’s 17 points as they trailed 23-17.
Thomas led his team with 23 points, and Dieudonne Ndizeye, the other REG player to score in double digits, finished with eleven points.
Meanwhile, Deshaun Morman sparked FAP’s offence with 14 points and three assists. Joel Almeida and Tyjhai Byers contributed 10 points apiece, and the Cameroonian champions, supported by a small but loud group of fans, remain in contention for the BAL title.
Nothing seems to have hurt REG more than their 25 turnovers with some of them happening in the last two minutes of the game.
“Those turnovers took opportunities from us. That’s 25 shots attempts that you didn’t get,” Pack lamented.
“Toughness. That was the key to our victory,” Morman told the bal.nba.com.
Morman hit a 3-pointer that gave FAP a 50-39. He followed it up a free-throw that sparked FAP to a 52-39 lead, and the Yaoundé-based team seemed in total control of their destiny.
“We played with a lot of heart. We were the underdogs; they had the homecourt advantage, but we just played until the last end of the court.”
“We like to play hard. That’s what we are made about. FAP is military toughness, and we are just keep going. It doesn’t matter who steps in front of us until it shows zero on that clock.
Kenneh Gasana buried a 3-pt with 6:37 left to cut the deficit to 57-54, sending the home crowd into a frenzy.
The home crowd erupted with loudest noise of the night when Rwandan international player Olivier Shyaka drilled a 3-pt shot to cut the deficit one point (58-57) with 4:30 minutes left.
But FAP never panicked.
FAP chairman Jackson Kamgaing later told the bal.nba.com that “Our goal was to reach at least the Semi-Finals. It was difficult to beat the home team. We planned everything, we knew that we could beat them, and we did it. We are in a process. It’s a process to get better and better. We learned from our mistakes in the Nile Conference. The next game is very, very difficult, but I am sure we are going to make it.”
REG concluded their BAL campaign with a 4-2 mark while FAP improved to 3-3.