KIGALI, Rwanda -- Petro de Luanda were the fan and pundit favourites to win this year's Basketball Africa League, but they leave Kigali without a podium place after losing 73-65 to Stade Malien in the third-place playoff.
Petro, who finished third in the first edition in 2021 and were runners up last year, looked devoid of spirit in the first quarter after their shock semi-final exit to AS Douanes, while Malien looked like a team that still had plenty to play for after coming short against Al Ahly.
The second quarter started off even worse for Petro as Malien increased their advantage to 31-17. However, the Angolan champions found their rhythm and reduced the deficit to 36-34 by half-time, then going in front early in the third quarter.
Former Toronto Raptors player Carlos Morais showed glimpses of his best form as the game progressed as Petro took a 54-50 lead heading into the final quarter, but Petro struggled to keep up the intensity and fell behind once again.
Malien led 68-62 with just over two and a half minutes left, but Morais sank a crucial three to keep his team in contention. However, a bucket from Rueben Chinyelu made the job tougher for Petro and then Souleymane Berthé's free throw made it a six-point game with just over 50 seconds remaining.
Petro raced up the other end, but could not capitalise and a dunk from Chinyelu effectively sealed the win.
"We didn't do our job today. We didn't come to play hard. They deserve [the win]," said Aboubacar Gakou in the mixed zone after the game.
However, he insisted that Angolan basketball does not need a hard reset and that they have the young talent to replace the outgoing golden generation when the time is right.
Gakou added: "I think it's possible, because we only have one old guy, Carlos - our best player. We're all young, 26, 25, Lukeny Gonçalves is 27."
Morais is the oldest player in the team at 37 years old and the three next oldest are foreign players Ater Majok and Solo Diabaté (both 35) and Damian Hollis (34). Angolan center Jone Pedro (32) is Petro's second oldest local player.
Coach José Neto's current contract is reaching its end, and although he looked downbeat, he said he was not yet in a position to confirm whether or not he could still be offered a new deal.
AS Douanes coach Mamadou Gueye was announced as the Coach of the Year during the half-time break, winning the award which Neto scooped last year.
Gueye, who will face Agustí Julbe's Ahly in Saturday's final, said in the mixed zone: "To me, it's a culmination of years of work.
"In the Senegalese championship, I was crowned best head coach six times in seven years and I don't want to talk about myself, because I'm used to this kind of decoration, but I'm very, very proud of this accomplishment."
Meanwhile, the All-BAL Defensive Team was unveiled with Childe Dundão (Petro), Jean-Jacques Boissy (Douanes), Samkelo Cele (Cape Town Tigers), Aliou Diarra (Stade Malien) and Ater Majok (Petro) making the cut.
The BAL airs on ESPN's channels in Africa.