Aliou Diarra recorded his sixth straight double-double of the season to steer Stade Malien into the 2023 BAL Semi-Finals.
Diarra was 9 for 15 from the floor to finish with a team-high of 18 points, 13 rebounds and 3 block shots as Stade Malien beat Cape Town Tigers 78-69 on Saturday.
Diarra sign off his stellar display with two thunderous dunks as he remains one of the top performers of the season.
John Wilkins’ fade-away shot – the first basket in the 2023 Finals – was just an indication of his determination to help his team stay in contention.
“We need this win really bad,” said Wilkins who finished the opening quarter with 16 points, but could only add two more points for the rest of the game.
“Cape Town is a good team. They made some defensive adjustments and things got tougher for me,” the French-Moroccan forward admitted.
Wilkins set the tone for Stade Malien, who never trailed and benefited from a productive bench which outscored Cape Town’s 22-5.
For most of the game, Stade Malien seemed to be heading to a blowout win, especially after leading by as many as 22 points in the third quarter.
But, in a turn of events Cape Town cut the deficit just two points (70-68) after a Michael Gbniji’s three-pointer with 41 seconds left.
And, when the game looked to be running in Cape Town’s way, the worst happened.
The Tigers turned the ball over three times, which resulted in six Stade Malien points.
A short-handed Cape Town Tigers, who couldn’t count on injured Evans Ganapamo and Zaire Wade, had to rely on Samkelo Cele and Pieter Prinsloo.
Prinsloo finished with a game-high of 19 points, Cele added 18 and Marvin Smith Jr contributed 17 points.
The loss marks Cape Town’s second straight exit in the Quarter-Finals.
“Turning the ball over too many times down the stretch cost us the game, unfortunately,” Cele said.
“It’s been a long road. We had our ups and downs, especially in our conference; we won one and lost three straight. We played really hard; I am proud of my guys,” Cele stressed.
BAL debutant Marvin Smith Jr admitted that it “Not the result that we wanted.. We showed great fight at the end.. We just a slow start to the game.”
He continued: “We definitely made some turnovers that cost us the game.”
Stade Malien’s Rueben Chinyelu, one of the six NBA Academy Africa players taking part in the Elevate Program, contributed seven points and eleven rebounds off the bench.
Reflecting on the win, the Nigerian said: “It was good to start with a win; We made some mistakes, but we were to close the game out. We are going to the film room and try to fix some mistakes.”
With the win Stade Malien become the first Malian side to reach the last four of the BAL.