One more loss would have left Stade Malien in a lot of trouble in the Sahara Conference, but the Malian champions came up with a heroic performance.
The Malian outfit looked nothing like the team that was outclassed by AS Douanes 74-58 less than 24 hours earlier.
Rwanda Energy Group (REG) forward Cleveland Thomas Jr scored the first two points of the game in Saturday’s first game.
But Aliou Diarra didn’t take long to respond, making one of his two free-throws to cut the gap to 2-1, before hitting a jumper that put Stade Malien in front for the rest of the game.
Stade Malien’s 84-64 win over REG not only means they are back in the race for a playoff spot, but it also ended the Rwanda champions’ three-game winning streak.
No teams remain unbeaten in the Sahara Conference.
Stade Malien’s 37-32 lead at the break exemplified their self-belief and determination to square off against any team.
Even REG head coach Dean Murray acknowledged their opponents effort: “You got to give Stade Malien credit,” the American said.
“They just wanted it more than we did. We talked about that, and we knew that they needed to win this game.”
Stade Malien improved to 2-2 while REG dropped to 3-1.
REG found themselves trailing a few times in the previous three games, although they found a way to turn things around.
But fighting back against Stade Malien proved mission impossible.
Stade Malien never took their foot off the pedal, even when REG brought the game back to a single digit deficit in third quarter.
Everyone contributed for Stade Malien one way one or another. Its bench outscored REG’s 26-11; they finished with a 51-43 rebounding advantage and forced Murray’s team to turn the ball over 21 times.
A decent three-point shooting team, REG were limited to a 4-for-26 shooting from beyond the arc.
“The world has got to see who these young [Stade Malien players] really are. And I am happy to be a part of this,” said Stade Malien guard Kelvin Amayo who contributed 14 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists.
Aliou Diarra finished with 20 points and 16 rebounds – his third double-double in four games –, and Souleymane Berthe had a game-high of 23 points while adding 7 rebounds and 4 assists.
Adonis Filer led REG with 19 points, and Delwam Graham added 18 points in the losing cause.
REG return to action on Monday, March 20 to take on reigning champions US Monastir. Stade Malien will close their Sahara Conference taking on high-flying Abidjan Basket Club on Tuesday, March 21.