The historic run for Mali’s U19 men’s basketball team continued with a hard-fought 76-73 semi-finals victory over France to advance to the 2019 FIBA U19 World Cup Finals in Heraklion, Greece — and become the first African nation to reach the gold medal game of a FIBA U19 World Cup.
16 year-old Oumar Ballo once again dominated the opposition, racking with his third straight double-double with 17 points and 11 rebounds. Fousseyni Drame was big with 17 points and 10 rebounds. Pittsburgh Panthers’ incoming freshman Karim Coulibaly contributed with 15 points and 6 rebounds.
Point guard Siriman Kanoute controlled the tempo with 11 points and 6 assists and Hassan Drame added continued to showcase his all-around game with 13 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals.
The African champions trailed 19-13 after the first quarter and responded with a big second-quarter — outscoring France 26-14 to take a 39-33 half-time lead.
Mali continued to find always to score inside with their superior length and controlled the game, holding slim leads and keeping the french at bay with a 61-55 advantage after the third-quarter.
France cut the lead to single digits at 69-68 with 4:32 remaining in the final quarter, but Mali kept their composure and scored in the next two possessions to hang on for yet another historic win for the nation and the African continent.
France won the massive rebounding battle with a slim 56-50 advantage with a 25 to 19 edge on the offensive glass.
Mali’s defense held France’s talented shooting guard Joel Ayayi (Gonzaga Bulldogs) to 8 points on 3-of-15 shooting and 1-of-8 from outside the arc.
What a remarkable turnaround for Mali basketball who just two years ago finished dead last and in 16th place at the 2017 World Cup.
Mali kicked-off the 2019 edition with Group B victories over Latvia 93-79, knocked off defending champions Canada 71-70, lost their only game — a 82-79 last second decision to Australia, routed New Zealand 77-62 in the round of 16 — gave Puerto Rico a taste of African basketball with a 84-74 quarter-finals win and knocked off their former colonizers in semi-finals.
Mail (5-1) will play undefeated USA (6-0) in the gold medal game of the 2019 FIBA U19 World Cup.