The Senegalese national team crashed out of the 2016 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Manila, Philippines on Thursday after losing to Turkey, 68-62, mirroring the fate suffered by Gilas Pilipinas the night before.
It was a heartbreaking moment for Senegal; but like what Gilas did less than 24 hours prior to Senegal’s loss, the African side managed to put up a brave stand against their opponents before exiting with heads held high and hearts unbowed.
The 2015 FIBA AfroBasket semifinalists pushed Canada to the hilt in a defensive-themed affair, before falling, 58-55. The squad managed to do the same against Turkey, although fell short in the end.
“We were very disappointed of the result of the first two games because they were close but we did mistakes in both games in the same moment of the game many times. That caused us both games,” wing man Antoine Mendy, who had 11 points, nine rebounds, and three assists against Turkey, said.
“Against Canada, we had the ball (in the end) and we missed. Today, we were down three, we made small mistakes and that caused us the game.”
Still, there were positives to pick up from the campaign.
“What I think is it means African teams can play face to face against all around the world teams. It’s only details. We showed it this week,” Mendy, who averaged 5.5 points and 5.5 rebounds in the Manila OQT, added.
Mendy said exposure at this level will help Senegal in future tournaments, especially for the squad’s youngsters.
“It’s good because it is going to help us in the next African championship and for the next World Cup or so,” the 32 year old said.
In putting up a brave stand against powerhouse squads, Senegal even earned the respect of Filipino fans in attendance, which fittingly cheered for the Lions in both of their games.
Mendy shared that such moment felt unreal for Senegal, but being in a similar position with Gilas, the team was able to establish a connection. And the team did the best it could to reciprocate the effort given by the crowd appreciative of fighters.
“I was really surprised against Canada when the crowd started to help us. I felt really strange. They pushed us that’s why we didn’t quit because we knew, we felt they were helping us so we have to give them what they give us that’s why we didn’t quit,” Mendy said.
Being the underdogs and the lowest ranked squad (31st) among six participants in the tournament, Senegal fought with odds stacked against them.
But like what the hometown bets exhibited in the last few days, Senegal, which competed without leaders Gorgui Dieng, Muhammad Faye, and Xane Dalmeida, refused to give up until the very end – a true mark of underdogs.
Despite the disappointment, Mendy said he is proud of his team’s performance in the campaign, and added that just like Gilas, Senegal will continue to rise.
“Yeah, of course, I think any player here wearing the jersey, no matter the issue, you should be proud to represent your country. As a basketball player, it’s the highest level in the world. Of course you’re proud,” he closed.
“We don’t quit. Senegal people don’t quit.”