KIGALI, Rwanda (AP) — Naturalized citizen Matt Costello had 17 points and 12 rebounds to help Ivory Coast beat Senegal 75-65 to advance to the final of the African basketball championship against defending champion Tunisia on Saturday.
Costello, who played briefly for the San Antonio Spurs in the 2017-18 season, was tasked with slowing down Senegal center and NBA veteran Gorgui Dieng, who had a game-high 24 points but fouled out when he was assessed a technical for pushing the former Michigan State player from behind in the waning seconds.
Tunisia beat Cape Verde by an identical score of 75-65 in the other AfroBasket semifinal in host city Kigali, Rwanda. The final is Sunday.
In a battle of former NBA centers, Tunisia’s Salah Mejri helped contain Cape Verde’s Walter “Edy” Tavares by scoring 14 points and blocking five shots. Mejri played four seasons for the Dallas Mavericks.
Real Madrid’s Tavares, selected by the Atlanta Hawks in the second round of the 2014 NBA draft, finished with 16 points, eight rebounds and three blocks.
Makram Ben Romdhane added 16 points and 10 rebounds and former UCLA star Michael Roll chipped in 14 points and 10 assists for Tunisia.
A FIBA rule allows countries to tap players with dual citizenships or a player who becomes a naturalized citizen. Several players at the Tokyo Olympics took advantage of the rule and it’s common practice in Africa.
Ivory Coast has won AfroBasket twice, most recently in 1985.
Tunisia is also a two-time champion, having captured the title in 2011 — when Mejri was tournament MVP — and in 2017.
“We’re happy to be in the final, but we didn’t come here to just go to the final,” Tunisia coach Dirk Bauermann said. “The goal is to go home with a gold medal around our neck. We can beat anybody.”
Mejri had been given a technical foul in the first half and was seen complaining after the victory, but his coach wasn’t concerned about any impact on the final.
“Salah’s a great player and I think you have to respect that,” Bauermann said. “We have a lot of guys that are emotional. They play with a lot of passion and sometimes you have to take the good with the bad. These things happen, it’s basketball. I really don’t think this is the time to talk about Salah Mejri’s psyche.”
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