Nigeria international Ike Diogu top-scored for Zamalek in their opening game of the BAL Nile Conference in Cairo, leading the Egyptian side to an 80-63 win over South Sudanese outfit Cobra Sports.
The scoreline was slightly deceptive in that the defending BAL champions were pushed by the youthful Sudanese side for the majority of the game, and while Cobra never managed to lead the game they were not outclassed in front of a very vocal Cairo crowd.
Zamalek’s experienced players, led by Diogu (17pts) and fellow former NBA player DJ Strawberry (14pts), came to the fore as the fourth quarter progressed to pull the score away from Manny Berberi’s team.
Diogu, who scored 10 of Zamalek’s first 16 points, acknowledged after the game that BAL debutants Cobra were likely tougher than they expected, especially with a close score of 35-28 at the end of the first half.
The D’Tigers captain told ESPN: « It was the first game so we got all the jitters out. It was against a very good team, a very athletic team, and I’m glad we were able to make the adjustments needed. »
It was a fairly sloppy effort from both sides, especially in the first half, with more shots than not failing to fall. Free throws and three-pointers will be of particular concern for both teams, with shots beyond the arc successful only 25 percent of the time for either side.
Of his own drop-off in scoring, adding just seven points in the three quarters that followed his initial burst, Diogu added: « I was just taking what the defense was giving me.
« I missed a couple of shots, and I’m never someone who just continues to force shots, so I just took what the defense was giving me. More importantly, I’m just happy our team won the game. »
Given the team’s average age is 23, Cobra Sports lacked the experience to maintain much pressure in the final minutes, allowing Zamalek to reward their chanting, singing, jeering, whistling fans for their continuous effort to fill the Hassan Moustafa Sports Hall with noise.
A particular favorite was Anas Mahmoud, the defensive MVP from the inaugural season of the BAL, who beat away the ball from the Cobras hoop with relative ease. He also showed his class by contributing at the other end of the court, adding 10 points to the score, with 11 rebounds.
The standout player for Cobras was Mayan Kiir, an Australian who played his college basketball at New Mexico State in the US till last year. He scored a game-high 18 points, and told media after the game that he was disappointed at his side’s inability to score consistently.
Cobra Sport will not have an easier task in their next game, as they come up against Angolan champions Petro de Luanda on Tuesday, while Zamalek will face Cape Town Tigers later that same night.