DAR ES SALAAM (Tanzania) – Burundi and Rwanda extended their respective winning streaks to 3-0 and 2-0 during Day 3 of the FIBA AfroCan Zone 5 Qualifiers.
Facing Eritrea for their third appearance, Burundi won the match-up 73-68, while Rwanda kept the game under their control to claim the win 72-55 against South Sudan.
If, at some point, Burundi ever thought that Eritrea would be an easy match-up, they were wrong. Eritrea stepped on the Benjamin Mkapa Indoor Court in Dar Es Salaam with newfound ambition.
Even though Eritrea were lagging by as much as 10 points, they always found a way to maintain and sometimes close the gap, finishing the first quarter with only a 4-point deficit (19-23) thanks to the respective prowess of Yafet Haile, Aron Zekarias and Irael Mulugeta.
But Burundi kept pushing through their trio of Landry Ndikumana, Richard Bienvenu Ndikuriyo and Guibert Nijimbere. Rodrigue Kabura also chipped in, as did Delvire Nikiza.
Ndikumana was the most prolific scorer for Burundi as he sank 22 points, while grabbing 7 rebounds and 3 assists.
By half-time, Eritrea kept the gap to 7 points (42-35), but in a twist of events, they rose up and scored a superb 23-13 run, leaving Burundi in their trails (58-55).
This short-lived event happened because of one man: Irael Mulugeta.
With Burundi leading 55-51, he scored the 7 points that would give Eritrea the temporary lead just before heading into the last stretch. He would later account for 33 points, a tournament-high so far, along with 7 rebounds.
But his efforts would avail to nothing as Burundi came back for the last piece of the showdown with renewed energy and focus. They out-rebounded and outscored their opponents (18-10) in the fourth quarter, which was more than enough to bag a most precious win.
With this undefeated run, Burundi remain in contention for the only available ticket that will go the the Zone 5 Qualifiers winner.
RWANDA IMPROVE TO 2-0
The second game of the day saw Rwanda overcome South Sudan 72-55 to extend their winning streak in the tournament to 2-0.
Ntore Habimana (11 points, 7 rebounds) and Dieudonne Ndizeye (11 points), along with Dick Sano (11 points, 7 rebounds) and Steven Hagumintwari (11 points), were Rwanda’s flag-bearers.
But they were faced with some tough opposition as three of South Sudan’s players – Aluk Lual Adub, Koch Deng Aguer Bar and Ruai Gatyang Yar Luak – finished the game with double digits.
Adub accounted for 17 points and 1 rebounds, while Aguer Bar and Yar Luak finished with 11 points and 10 rebounds and 10 points and 10 rebounds respectively.
Overall, Rwanda sealed the game in the second quarter, when they definitely outscored South Sudan 21-9.
They headed into half-time with a 14-point advantage, and did the minimum to keep their opponent at bay. This tactics somehow defeated its purpose as South Sudan found some focus in the final quarter, where they outscored Rwanda 19-17.
But the writings were on the wall and Rwanda remain in the race, while South Sudan will have to win their next games if they wish to be seen as candidates to the FIBA AfroCan in July.
Day 4, on Tuesday June 20, will see Eritrea and South Sudan battle for their first win, while Tanzania will try to get back on track after losing to Burundi.