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BAL: Rivers Hoopers tops Sahara Conference table

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Rivers Hoopers concluded their outing at the Sahara Conference of the 2024 Basketball Africa League (BAL) with a 4-2 record following a 73-62 loss against former BAL champions, Tunisia’s US Monastir, at the Dakar Arena on Sunday.

Hoopers fielded a much-changed starting five from their previous games, as Coach Ogoh Odaudu handed Abel Offia and Johnson Anaiye their first starts in Dakar, alongside BAL Elevate player David Ike, Devine Eke, and John Wilkins.

US Monastir had lost their opening three games at the 2024 BAL Sahara Conference, including a 21-point blowout (84-63) by Rivers Hoopers on Game Day three, but came into the Game Day six encounter full of confidence after securing back-to-back wins against Rwanda’s APR (83-70) and AS Douanes of Senegal (75-69).

The former BAL Champions, US Monastir, went on a 7-0 scoring run inside the opening three minutes as the KingsMen struggled to get going early on. That margin increased to 15-2 with four minutes left, but the Hoopers rallied to cut the deficit to six as the first quarter ended 19-13 with US Monastir in the lead.

The second quarter ended 20-19 in favour of the Rivers Hoopers, as the KingsMen were much improved in shooting, with Mustapha Oyebanji, John Wilkins, Kelvin Amayo, and Devine Eke scoring big points. However, US Monastir were up for the challenge and also had big scores of their own, taking a 5-point lead into the halftime break with the scores at 38-33.

Rivers Hoopers found it difficult in the third quarter, no thanks to some impressive perimeter defending by US Monastir, especially the 6-foot-1l frame of 2022 BAL Defensive Player of the Year, Ater James Majok, who led the game in rebounds (16). The Kingsmen were limited to just 9 points as their opponents put up 18, to stretch their lead to 14 heading into the final quarter at 56-42.

The Kingsmen took the fourth quarter 20-17, but that only reduced the deficit to 11 points, as US Monastir, who desperately needed to win to stay alive in the race for a place at the BAL playoffs in Kigali, Rwanda, did just enough to beat a Rivers Hoopers side which had nothing to lose.

Despite the loss, Hoopers finished as the best team in the Sahara Conference, having won 4 out of 6 games, becoming the first Nigerian team to reach the BAL Playoffs.

Devine Eke finished with a team-high 13 points, while Kelvin Amayo was the only other player to hit double figures for the KingsMen with 10 points.

Mustapha Oyebanji had 5 rebounds and shot 3/7 from beyond the arc to finish with 9 points, the same as David Ike, who had an impressive 80% shooting game. Peter Olisemeka led the Hoopers in rebounds with 10.

The Hoopers bench contributed 24 points, with Abel Offia (5 pts), Michael Daramola, Vincent Onyebuchi (3 rebs), and Victor Koko enjoying game time.

Rivers Hoopers head coach Ogoh Odaudu attributed the defeat to fatigue.

“Fatigue had started settling in from the second round so everyone was tired and also Monastir wanted it more.”

“When the news went out we had qualified that also did not help so they didn’t have the same fire as today but majorly it was fatigue.”

Rivers Hoopers will now head back to Nigeria to start preparation for the 2024 BAL Playoffs, scheduled to start on 24 May, in Kigali, Rwanda.

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