Stade Malien couldn’t have finished their BAL debut season any better after beating Petro de Luanda 73-65 in the Third-Place Game on Friday night.
Winners of the 2023 Sahara Conference, Stade Malien arrived in Kigali looking to compete and go as far as possible.
But a 78-73 loss to Al Ahly in the Semi-Finals on Wednesday halted their title aspirations.
Beating Petro de Luanda became their primary goal to celebrate a season that began during the BAL Qualifiers last November in Niger and saw them qualify for their first BAL after a successful Elite 16 Round Abidjan in December.
“On the paper the so-called big teams look really good, but the reality is on the floor,” Stade Malien captain Makan Keita.
After trailing 54-50 at the end of the third quarter, Stade Malien never backed down.
And when Keita hit a three-pointer – his second of the game – that put Stade Malien in front 60-58 with five minutes left, the Malian champions grew in confidence and Petro struggled to cope their aggression.
“I couldn’t waste that chance. I was wide open... I felt confident to take that shot, and it went in. It was all about confidence,” said Keita who finished with 8 points and 5 assists.
“The fourth quarter was the key moment for us. We played for our lives. We wanted to take a medal home, and things worked out for us,” he added.
Aliou Diarra recorded his eighth straight double-double of 25 points and 12 rebounds to help Stade Malien finish their BAL season with an overall 5-3 mark.
He was the only Malien player to score in double digits.
“It was down to a lot of work.. a lot of motivation. Players like John [Wilkins] and the other import players really lifted our game. We are a young team, and those guys gave us some valuable advice,” Keita observed.
Petro de Luanda guard Carlos Morais bounced-back from a six-point performance in the Semi-Finals to finish with 15 points, and become the only Petro player to score in double digits.
“Mentally, we were still affected by the Semi-Final loss against AS Douanes. This shouldn't be an excuse. Credit to Stade Malien,” noted Aboubacar Gakou who contributed six points in the losing cause.
Wilkins attributed the Third-Place award to his teammates’ tenacity.
“It was a great team for us,” he said.
“After the loss against Al Ahly we had to show our real face. Today we played without any pressure.”
Wilkins continued: “These guys worked really, really
hard throughout the season to accomplish this Third-Place. This a win for the
local players. We joined the team to help, but, in the end, it was a win for
the local players and Mali as a country. They really deserved this reward.”
Stade Malien became the first from the Road to BAL Qualifying Round to finish third in the BAL Finals