REG 79-84 US Monastir Basketball Africa League defending champions, US Monastir, progressed to the playoffs of the 2023 edition in Kigali, Rwanda, after Monday night’s stunning 84-79 victory over Rwanda Energy Group (REG) at Dakar Arena. Cleveland Thomas Jr. was three points shy of tying the BAL record for most points in a game, but his effort wasn’t enough to beat lead REG to their fourth victory past a US Monastir side which looked determined to qualify for the playoffs before playing their last conference game against AS Douanes on Tuesday. Thomas Jr. had a 13-for-21 shooting to finish with 38 points. He added 4 rebounds and 4 assists. Adonis Filer, the other REG player to score in double digits, finished with 21 points but his wasteful displays in the last minutes of the final quarter is one of the factors that cost REG the game. The intensity and aggressiveness from the start of the game was fundamental for the Tunisian champions who improved to 3-1. Monastir were so determined to bounce back from a shocking defeat to Abidjan Basket Club (ABC) on Friday that, in the third quarter, they had a 27-point point lead (58-31) ahead of REG who looked down and out of the game. Despite the huge gap, coach Dean Murray his men rallied to bring the game back to a one-digit difference. With two minutes left, REG trailed by five (72-67), but turning the ball over three times hurt their chances of winning the game. “We had a very slow start. Defense wasn’t there in the beginning. We tried to find our way back, but we fell short,” Adonis admitted. Despite the defeat, Adonis heaped praise on Thomas Jr’s stellar performance which at some point kept REG in the game. “We had to keep feeding him the ball. He is the reason we got back into this game. Defense and Cleveland Thomas helped us back to the game,”he said. REG, who finished top of the Sahara Conference last season, closed their regular season with a 3-2 mark and hence dropped to third on the table behind leaders ABC and second-placed Monastir. “We just need to make sure we stay focused. I feel like we kind of lost focus during these past two games. We let the hype of qualifying disrupt our ultimate goal of winning the conference,” a visibly disappointed Filer lamented. Jerome Randle scored 10 of his team-high 32 points in the fourth quarter and added 3 assists; Ibrahima Thomas made 5 of his 9 three-pointers to finish with 17 points and Firas Lahyani contributed 11 points for Monastir. Reacting on their important victory, Monastir forward Thomas,“ after we lost to ABC, he [Coach Modrag Perisic] made some adjustments because this was a very important game for us to qualify.” “We are trying to do our best and build our identity as a team. Coach join the team three days before me. I got there five days before we came to Dakar. We are trying to find ourselves. The more we work together the better we are going to get as a team,” the Senegalese added. In another game, Chudier Bile came up with a heroic performance to help ABC beat Nigeria’s Kwara Falcons 79-76 and send the Ivorian side to their first BAL playoffs in May in Kigali. The South Sudanese guard did everything right to prevent Kwara Falcons from winning their first game in the Sahara Conference. Liz Mills, who watched the game from the stands due to health issues, praised her players and assistant coach Eric Minotte for the victory. “Credit to the team,” Mills said. “This game could have gone terribly wrong.” Kwara Falcons closed their BAL debut campaign without a single win from their last five outings while ABC improved to 3-1 before taking on Stade Malien on Tuesday, March 21 for their last game of the regular season. US Monastir will take on home side AS Douanes on Tuesday, looking to finish at the top of the conference.