DAKAR, Senegal, March 13, 2023/ — The 2022 BAL Champion US Monastir of Tunisia started its title defense with a game against Stade Malien of Mali, which was making its BAL debut.
Stade Malien captain Souleymane Berthe scored two early baskets to give his team a 6-2 lead, but consecutive baskets by former Pac-10 Player of the Year and NBL MVP Jerome Randle and 2022 All-BAL First Team member Radhouane Slimane pushed US Monastir in front 11-10 with 3:30 left in the first quarter. After US Monastir’s Firas Lahyani converted an and-one basket and a free throw, Lassaad Chouaya laced a three pointer at the end of the quarter to give US Monastir a 23-15 lead heading into the second.
Stade Malien attacked the basket and offensive glass to start the second quarter, but US Monastir’s balanced and efficient scoring maintained its double-digit lead for the better part of the quarter. A corner three by Ibrahima Thomas on a cross-court pass from Slimane gave US Monastir its biggest lead of the game, 41-28, with just over two minutes left in the half. Diarra scored six points during an 8-0 run for Stade Malien to cut the deficit to just four with :55 second left in the half. After getting fouled on a three-point attempt, Randle hit all three free throws to go into the half up 44-37.
Monastir started the third quarter with a 5-0 scoring run that extended its lead to 12. A 6-0 run ignited by a jump hook from John Wilkins brought Stade Malien to within four points with 3:52 left, but US Monastir closed the quarter strong, capped off by a Randle floater to go up 60-49 with one quarter remaining.
Berthe caught fire in the fourth, scoring 10 points in the first five minutes of the final period, but Monastir’s balanced offense, which featured seven different players score at least seven points, helped sustain the team’s double-digit lead throughout the quarter. US Monastir closed the game with a 78-68 win. Berthe poured in 34 points, the most points scored by one player so far this season, while teammate Diarra recorded a 14-point, 14-rebound double-double. Randle led all Monastir scorers with 16, while Thomas and Oussama Marnaoui scored 11 and 12 points, respectively.
US Monastir will play its next game against the Kwara Falcons on Wednesday, March 15. Stade Malien will play the Falcons on Tuesday, March 14 at 4 p.m. GMT.