Basketball Africa League defending champions US Monastir were handed their first defeat of the tournament on Friday in Dakar, losing 90-74 to newcomers ABC Fighters of the Ivory Coast.
ABC, who are coached by veteran Australian tactician Liz Mills, made seemingly light work of the Tunisian powerhouse side, who seemed to be on track to leave Senegal undefeated. They had, however, already qualified for the playoffs in Kigali, Rwanda, in May.
ABC, based in Abidjan, used Amadou Harouna's height and precision to full effect as he racked up 33 points, while Mike Fofana (18pts) and Stephane Konate (15pts) played the supporting act to perfection.
Mills, who was visibly overjoyed by the result, told the media afterwards: "Stephane Konate has been playing for 22 years plus and he's never had the opportunity to beat Tunisia, so for us, we feel really excited about this opportunity.
"What was amazing is how many different players contributed."
When the game is on the line, you can always count on @aharouna30 to deliver 🔥— Basketball Africa League (@theBAL) March 17, 2023
33 points, 6 assists and a clutch @visitrwanda_now MVP performance 🏆👊🏽 #theBAL pic.twitter.com/bcx5WEPMUX
Monastir, meanwhile, relied heavily on American Jerome Randle, who scored 25 points, but he was not as ably backed up by his colleagues. It didn't help that ABC took full advantage of any mistakes Monastir made, scoring 82% of their free throws and scoring 23 points off turnovers.
A frustrated Randle bemoaned his team's desire to shoot for flashy three-pointers instead of getting the basics right while they had the ball, saying: "Honestly, if you play the game of basketball, you must understand momentum. You might have a shot, but [someone else may] have a better shot.
"If [another option] is open, you might want to pass up on your shot to get a better shot. I just feel like we took too many threes and when we had momentum, the game got away from us.
"We have to do a better job collectively as a team to understand momentum... We have to be smart collectively and make the right decisions and I don't think we did that as a group."
.@visitrwanda_now MVP of the Game : Chris Crawford pic.twitter.com/QPSuYeUwir— Basketball Africa League (@theBAL) March 17, 2023
The second game of the day saw Senegal's AS Douanes grab a win against Stade Malien to remain in the hunt for a playoff spot. The hosts of the Sahara Conference had been disappointing given their strong line-up, but finally gelled as a team.
Their 74-58 win was largely thanks to American Chris Crawford who scored 21 points, while BAL all-time scoring leader Terrell Stoglin didn't play in this game after scoring zero points in the team's previous outing.
Matthew Bryan-Amaning said of his team's slow meld into a unit: "It's not [that] the pieces [are] not fitting. Everyone's got to get used to each other. We can all score but a lot of us score in our own individual way, so we're getting used to each other playing.
"Coming into the BAL, we hadn't played any practice games against anybody. We kind of had to figure it out on the fly and you could see that in the first couple of games, but in tonight's game, we were able to figure some stuff out."
Douanes will hope their new-found cohesion lasts against Kwara Falcons of Nigeria on Saturday, while ABC Fighters face that same opponent on Monday. Monastir's next challenge is a stiff one, as they take on Conference leaders REG on Monday night.
The BAL airs on ESPN's channels in Africa. Follow the scores and schedule here.