DARIUS Rice torched champions Al Ahli for 51 points last night to lift Manama to a dramatic 107-101 overtime victory in the Zain Bahrain Basketball League play-offs.
Rice took command in the game's extra session, when he scored 17 of his season-high output and helped seal their resounding come-from-behind win. He took advantage of the absence of Ahli professional Lamond Murray, who had fouled out of the game late in regulation.
Rice had actually put on his hero's cape earlier in the contest, when he helped Manama rally from 10 points down, 78-68, with only two minutes left to play.
The six-foot, 10-inch American made back-to-back three-pointers to bring Manama to within four, and after Ahli court general Hussain Shaker made one of two free-throws for an 85-80 lead and 15 seconds on the clock, Rice raced down the court and buried another trey to make it 85-83 with just seven seconds remaining.
Maytham Jameel then missed a chance to ice the game for Ahli after clanging a pair of charity shots. Manama guard Bader Abdulla Malabes made him pay after being fouled with 1.6 seconds left. Malabes connected on two pressure-packed free-throws to tie it at 85-apiece and send the game into overtime, when Rice carried his team the rest of the way.
"Darius won the game for us," Malabes told the GDN. "He made some unbelievable shots near the end of the fourth quarter, and then he was unstoppable in overtime.
"Now we're almost sure of making it in the Golden Square after this win. We have three games left, and at least one more victory will put us safely in."
Ahli had a slim chance of completing their own comeback after Shaker made a trey to cut Manama's lead to 104-101, but it was too late as Rice and Malabes pegged the final score with another three charities in the closing moments.
Ahmed Mutawa added 21 points for Manama before fouling out while Malabes chipped in with 16.
The win was their second in a row in the six-team play-offs, which is being played in a single round-robin. Ahli, on the other hand, suffered their second straight defeat and are now in danger of missing the final four.
Shaker finished with 30 points to lead all Ahli scorers in the loss. Jameel added 27 and Murray had 20, before both fouled out.
Ahli led 43-40 at the half, and they even extended their advantage to 65-57 when Nedhal Abbas buried a three-pointer to beat the third quarter buzzer. That, however, set the stage for Manama's late-game surge.
Meanwhile, Al Hala picked up their first win of the play-offs following a mind-boggling 137-45 humiliation of lowly Nuwaidrat in yesterday's other game.
Veteran forward Ahmed Malallah and American big man Patrick Simpson combined for 50 points - already outscoring their rivals' entire game total by themselves.
Malallah had 26 and Simpson 24 to go with 11 rebounds and seven assists, as he took advantage of Nuwaidrat's overmatched roster and the absence of an opposing professional player.
Five others scored in double figures for Hala in the nearly 100-point victory. Abbas Jawadi contributed 17, Ahmed Jamal 15, Ahmed Haji and Abdulla Al Khaja 12 apiece and Ahmed Ali Hussain 10.
Nuwaidrat remained winless after two games.
Play-off action continues on Friday with Ahli taking on Nuwaidrat at 5.30pm, followed at 7.15pm by Manama locking horns with Isa Town.