Denmark-based Tyler Okari pit up a man of the match performance as the national men’s basketball team, the Kenya Morans, sailed to the round of 16 at the FIBA Afrobasket Championship with a 72-66 win over Mali in Kigali on Sunday.
Heading to the last match of the group phase after losing to Nigeria and Ivory Coast, the Kenyans needed a win to remain in Kigali. They provided that in sizzling fashion, Okari contributing with a double-double of 16 points and 11 rebounds for the Morans.
Skipper Griffin Ligare put up a sizzling performance has well, having been used on the periphery in the first two games of the campaign. Ligare sunk in 12 points for the Morans with eight rebounds and three steals.
“Coming in for this game today, we had two options, either to win or go home. We of course didn’t want to go home. I was very confident in our group and I knew we were not going to exit in the first round. I still believe we will have a great run in this tournament,” stated Ligare.
Coach Liz Mills was full of praise of Ligare’s performance in the game.
“He was an amazing leader tonight not just in scoring but with the way he carried himself and the rest of his teammates. Attitude reflects leadership and he is one of the big reasons why we won tonight,” the Australian coach said of her captain.
She was elated at guiding Kenya to her first ever win at the Afrobasket, coming 28 years after the last participation.
“This is a historic win and I could not be more proud of this group. We had two very tough matches both of which were winnable. We regrouped and came back ready. We are all happy to get the win,” Coach Mills added.
Against the Malians, the Morans were off to a good start and led 22-18 in the first quarter. The West Africans came back stronger in the second quarter tying the scores at 11-11, but Morans still maintained their three-point lead at halftime.
The Kenyan boys were more commanding in the third quarter winning the 10-minute duel 22-16. However, they slumped in the final quarter with Mali threatening a turnaround, but the Kenyan boys just managed to hold on for the win despite a 17-21 trail in quarterly points.
“We wanted to make it a little bit more exciting at the end there, to try and give our fans a heart attack,” coach Mills joked after the match.
The Morans will now take on South Sudan in the round of 16, a re-match of their meet-up during the pre-qualifiers in Nairobi in January 2020, which the Kenya Morans won.
The South Sudanese managed a ticket to the round of 16 after beating Uganda by a basket in a thrilling 88-86 score.
Ligare is confident that Kenya can outgun the South Sudanese and break into the quarter finals.
“We know South Sudan very well because we have played with them and we know their style and how they execute. But for us, when we get to the court, we have to give our all and come out all guns blazing,” Ligare said.