The big boys in African club basketball are starting to stamp their authority in the Basketball Africa League (BAL).
Tunisian champions US Monastir and Angolan giants Petro de Luanda on Thursday qualified for the quarterfinals of BAL after both teams registered successive wins in their respective groups.
It was a lop-sided affair as US Monastir blew out Nigeria’s Rivers Hoopers 99-70 on Thursday.
The victory reaffirmed US Monastir’s credentials as title contenders following their first Group A game victory where they swept Madagascar’s GNBC 113-66 on Monday night.
US Monastir excelled on both ends of the floor, scoring 45 points from 3-pointers and forcing 19 turnovers, in what as some point seemed as if Mourad El Mabrouk, Christopher Crawford and Radhouane Slimane were having a three-point contest.
Slimane powered US Monastir with a team-best 23 points, including a 6-for-9 from beyond the arc. El Mabrouk added 11 points and Crawford scored eight.
“Cohesion has been a key factor in our team. We know each other well. We won today, but there is a long way to go to the title game,” said small forward Slimane, who was left devastated four years ago when he and his US Monastir team finished third in the 2017 Fiba Africa Champions Cup.
“We are now focused on this season of the BAL, that’s our focus,” the 6’8 small forward added.
Safouen Ferjani, the man who coached US Monastir to the Tunisian League and Tunisian Cup championships last month, and is now serving as an assistant coach, reminded everyone that Thursday’s win was just another step towards their goal.
“We did a great job, but we want the first place in the group. Every game is very important,” Ferjani said when asked whether the team was planning on resting some key players now that they secured a place in the knockouts.
“We are here to win the title. We are not thinking about the quarterfinals or semifinals. Our focus for now is going to be on our next opponents (Patriots Basketball Club). They are a great team and we need to be ready for them,” Ferjani added.
Meanwhile, Rivers Hoopers dropped to 0-2 ahead of their final Group A game against GNBC of Madagascar.
“It was a tough game. US Monastir is one of the better teams in the tournament right now. We are getting better as team. We are going to be much better in our next game,” Hoopers head coach Ogoh Odaudu insisted.
When asked about his team’s future in the tournament, Odaudu noted: “Of course there is hope to qualify for the next round as one of the best losers. Our next game is not going to be easy. We have to come out and fight. It would be a great disservice to underrate the team from Madagascar. They have shown that they can play. We have to do double the work to come out victorious. We have two days to prepare. Now we are going to eat, sleep and think GNBC.”
Robert Daniels and Ben Uzoh, the only Hoopers players to score in double digits, combined for 45 points.
Daniels, who finished with a game-high 25 points and 11 rebounds, said: "US Monastir did a great job. I am not taking anything away from those guys.”
While it was seemingly an easy ride for US Monastir, last night's game wasn't a smooth one for Angola’s Petro de Luanda against Cameroon’s Forces Armées et Police Basketball (FAP).
Antwan Scott's player of the game performance helped Petro de Luanda overcome a stubborn FAP 66-64.
Scott scored a game-high 23 points on 75 percent shooting, going 9-for-12 from the field, including 4-for-7 from the three point line, as the Angolan champions improved their Group B mark to 2-0.
With Petro de Luanda struggling to adjust to FAP’s aggressive defense and sense of urgency early in the game, Scott changed the course of events for the former African champions.
He came off the bench for the second straight game and converted his first four field goals. His team held a 42-32 advantage at halftime.
It was quite a turnaround for Scott, who scored only two points on a 1-for-6 shooting against Mali’s AS Police two days earlier. Still, he wasn’t satisfied.
“We can do a lot better than that. We are still growing as a team,” he said in a post-game press conference.
Scott wasn’t the only bright spot for Petro de Luanda. Jone Pedro recorded his second double-double in the tournament with 13 points and 10 rebounds, while former Fiba Africa Champions Cup MVP Carlos Morais buried his first BAL three-pointer in 13 attempts and finished with four points and 10 rebounds.
“Coach Lazare (FAP coach) was our coach for the past nine years. He knows us really, and the only way to beat his team was to play aggressive at both ends of the court. We are happy for the win, and we are now focusing on our next opponent [AS Salé],” said Pedro
Amadou Harouna and Marcus Thomas Jr. – the only two FAP players to record double digit points – combined for 29 points.
“(Petro) Luanda is a great team, they played great defence. But we are taking some positives from this game. We are trying to come out with a win in our next game,” Thomas Jr. pointed out.
Petro de Luanda led for most parts of the game but almost gave away its second straight win at the end.
With eight seconds left and Petro de Luanda up by two points, FAP used a full court press, forcing point guard Childe Dundao to turn the ball over with 1.5 seconds left.
FAP called a time out, but on the in bounds play, they turned the ball back over just as the final buzzer sounded to the delight of the Angolan fans.
Petro de Luanda were sloppy with the ball with 27 turnovers, but their bench outscored FAP 33-16.
During a late-night tip-off, Terrell Stoglin became the first player to score 40 points in the Basketball Africa League (BAL), helping Morocco’s AS Salé fight back from a 16-point deficit to beat AS Police 88-79 on Thursday.
The 29-year-old guard made 14 of his 31 field goal attempts to top the 33 points scored by AS Police’s Joseph Nzeakor, the game’s second highest scorer.
Friday is a rest day for the BAL, with the final group games scheduled for Saturday and Sunday before heading into the playoffs next week.