Mali and Rwanda played out a thriller with the closest game of the FIBA AfroBasket 2021 Qualifiers thus far coming down to the final two minutes.
Mali edged the Thursday night Group D match-up at Kigali Arena 70-64 thanks to power forward Nianta Diarra’s clutch play down the stretch.
The game was a seesaw shortly after tip-off with two lead changes in the first quarter that the West African edges 21-14.
Rwanda erased the lead with a 7-0 run to start the second quarter as forward Dieudonne Ndayisaba Ndizeye went to work. While Rwanda edged the quarter 22-17, Mali had a 2-point lead (28-36) going into the long break.
Ibrahima Cherif Haidara connected from beyond the arc to open the third quarter scoring but Rwanda quickly wiped out the deficit and the game was tied at 43 on Kenny Gasana’s triple with just over six minutes to play. Rwanda edged the quarter 17-13 and had a 2-point lead (53-51) going into the fourth quarter.
Ndizeye pulled up for two to open the fourth quarter scoring but Mali took the lead with a 6-0 run. Skipper Olivier Shyaka6 connected from 3-point range to give Rwanda a one-point lead nearly halfway through the quarter but the lead only lasted one possession as Diara drove in for a lay-up and started to take over.
With 4:52 to play, Adonis Jovon Filer sent Boubacar Fadiala Sidibe to the line and the power forward hit both throws and blocked Filers’ attempt at the other end. Youngster Siriman Kanoute collected the rebound and extended Mali’s lead to 4 points with a lay-up.
Rwanda missed two straight shots with Shyaka6 and Elie Kaje drawing steel before Diara stretched the lead to six points with a pair of free throws.
Gasana forced Kanoute into cough up the ball and made a lay-up but Diara restored the six-point lead with just over two minutes to play and hit a clutch 3-pointer with 47 seconds on the clock.
Diara finished with game-high 19 points and pulled down 11 rebounds. Souarata Cissé contributed 11 points. Sidibe matched game-high 11 rebounds to go with 7 points.
Ndizeye finished with team-high 17 points and 10 rebounds, Gasana added 17 points while Filer chipped in with 13 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists in a losing effort. Kaje (10) and Alex Mpoyo (10) had double figure rebounds.
Action in Group D resumes on Saturday, November 28 with Rwanda taking on Nigeria while Mali will play South Sudan.