KIGALI, Rwanda – Quite why the Cape Town Tigers took an injured Zaire Wade to the Basketball Africa League playoffs remains a mystery, but the star attraction was forced to watch from the bench as his side got knocked out in the quarterfinals by Mali’s Stade Malien.
Led by French-Moroccan forward John Wilkins, Stade Malien won 78-69, taking full advantage of the South African side’s injury woes, with Wade (ankle) and star scorer Evans Ganapamo (knee sprain) sidelined with injuries picked up in Cairo, to set up a semi-final with Al Ahly or REG.
The Tigers started in front of a sold out crowd in Kigali with Mike Gbinije, Pieter Prinsloo, Samkelo Cele, Lebesa Selepe, and new signing Marvin Smith Jr. from the Maine Celtics.
Stade Malien took to the floor with their own new recruit, Gregory Clay Foster, alongside Souleymane Berthé, Kelvin Amayo, Wilkins and Aliou Diarra.
Wilkins set the pace for the Sahara Conference winners in the first quarter, with former Marist College duo Cele and Prinsloo leading the Tigers. However, Wilkins and Stade Malien came out of the blocks quickest to take a hefty 31-15 lead.
The Bamako side maintained their lead in the second quarter to go into half time 48-30 ahead with the Tigers at risk of a blowout similar to their thrashing at the hands of Tunisia’s US Monastir at the same stage last year.
The Malian side prove too strong for the Cape unit.
Catch our @new_fortress game recap to see how Wilkins led his side to the semifinals of the Basketball Africa League.#TheBAL pic.twitter.com/ecMu2K60Ky
— Basketball Africa League (@theBAL) May 20, 2023
In fairness, the Tigers showed some fight towards the end of the third quarter, which they ended trailing 64-52 after being 54-32 down at one point.
They then ate further into the deficit, taking the score to 66-62 with 3:57 on the clock as Cele, Prinsloo and Smith Jr. continued to chip away at Stade Malien’s advantage.
An exceptionally scrappy end to the game saw shots missed at both ends but a vital dunk from Amayo with 2:14 to go gave Stade Malien some breathing space. Washington State University-bound Rueben Chinyelu then followed up with one of his own.
However, the Tigers responded and Gbinije brought them back into the game. A three from the Nigeria international with 41.1 seconds brought the Tigers within two points at 70-68.
Stade Malien rose to the challenge with a two and then Amayo craftily stole possession from Cele to make it 74-68 with 26.6 seconds left. A dunk from Diarra then put the game beyond reach.
Wilkins and Diarra each finished with 18 points, but it was Stade Malien’s depth that won them the game as they finished with 10 scorers.
Prinsloo scored 19 for the Tigers, Cele 18 and Smith 17, but only Gbinije (10) and Parby Musongela (5) chipped in otherwise.
Chinyelu hailed the depth of his team after the game in the mixed zone, saying: “I think we believe we are [a championship team] and we know we can do that [win the tournament].
“If you have all those great guys like that – you have John [Wilkins], you have Solo [Berthé], you have Aliou [Diarra], you have so many out great players, then you know that you can win the championship.”
Delivering his assessment on the Tigers’ season, coach Rasheed Hazzard said in an emotional post-match press conference: “[I am] very satisfied. I was able to coach a group of very honourable men – a lot of integrity in that locker room. They really stood behind me, stood with me, through a lot of turmoil.
“We dealt with a lot as a group – a lot of which some of you don’t know – and we were still able to get to this level. I’m extremely proud and honoured to have been their coach and to have shared these moments with them…
“I told you guys I lost my dad [in 2011]; I lost my brother in this last year, so I understand loss and this loss, I get to watch the film, figure it out, get better from it. Those losses are permanent.”
The BAL airs on ESPN’s channels in Africa. The playoffs and final run from May 20 to 27.
This story originally appeared on ESPN