ABIDJAN (AfroBasket/FIBA Basketball World Cup) - Egypt entered their AfroBasket 2013 Semi-Final looking to make sure their Preliminary Round loss against Senegal would not be repeated. The Egyptians achieved that goal with a 70-63 win that secured their place at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup thanks to a gigantic performance by Assem Marei who dominated at both ends of the floor with a staggering 22 points and 17 rebounds.
With the win, Egypt ended a more than two decade long absence from FIBA's flagship competition as they last played at the 1990 edition of the FIBA World Championship.
Egypt will play in Saturday's Final against Angola, who beat hosts Cote d'Ivoire 66-59 in the second Semi-Final. Senegal will face Cote d'Ivoire in the Third-Place Game, with the third and last place for the FIBA Basketball World Cup at stake.
Egypt began spoiling Senegal's intentions of returning to the World Championship for the first time since 2006 just at the very beginning of the game on a Marei lay-up.
The Egyptians took the first lead of the game and never looked back, as they were up 28-24 at halftime.
Senegal's taller line-up was a minor concern for an Egyptian team that had been extremely consistent during the Preliminary Round despite their winless three games run.
Egypt controlled and dominated the first half since the game's opening basket, and they made the most of Marei's warrior performance in the paint.
He acted as the team's conductor, running, setting up team-mates, blocking shots and scoring in the most different ways.
The 22-year-old was so efficient that he converted 90 percent (9 of 10) of his field goal attempts in 26 minutes.
"This is a dream come true," Marei told FIBA.com afterwards.
"We worked so hard and I made sure to help my team the best possible way.
"Our mindset was to stay strong and together," he explained.
Egypt's Sheriff Abdalla acknowledged it was a "tough game, but we had to win this game."
Senegal's head coach Cheikh Sarr paid tribute to Marei.
"He is not a center, he is a power forward, and he was too quick for our centers," he said.
"He is simply a good player.
Looking at his team's hopes of still qualifying for Spain 2014 through Saturday's Third-Place Game, Sarr was confident.
"Yes, we still have a chance, we are going to compete."
Senegal made various attempts to comeback in the game. They tied the score at 7, but Egypt made it clear the first half and the rest of the game belonged to them.
Sarr got his team to play zone defense in the third quarter and it proved efficient as it disrupted the Egyptians’ offense for a while, but that was the moment when the North Africans improved their shooting behind the arc.
Maleye Ndoye hit a three pointer that got Senegal within 39-37, but the Egyptians didn't panic and stayed in their positive mode as they headed into the fourth quarter up 42-39.
Both teams found their offense in the final frame, combining for 52 points and Egypt's head coach Amr Aboul Kheir started celebrating the victory with the crowd when Rami Abdalla hit a three-pointer that stretched the lead to 58-47 with 2.30 remaining.
Ndoye was the only Senegalese player to score in double digits with 12 points.