Jo Lual Aquil [1296x729]
Jo Lual Aquil [1296x729] (Credit: Nacer Talel/NBAE via Getty Images)

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Al Ahly (Cairo) and Al Ahly (Benghazi) established themselves as clear favourites for the two automatic qualification spots in Monday's Basketball Africa League (BAL) action, beating Bangui SC and City Oilers respectively.

In the early tip-off, Ahly Benghazi looked to bounce back from defeat against the hosts against a City Oilers side smarting from successive losses.

Khaman Maluach got on the scoreboard early for the City Oilers, picking up where he left off against Bangui and trying to set the tone early for a team that desperately needed to get off the mark in this year's BAL.

However. It was another South Sudanese big man, Jo Lual-Acuil, who was the star of the first quarter, as he scored a quickfire 14 first quarter points to put Ahly Benghazi 25-11 up.

Ahly Benghazi continued their dominance in the second quarter, as Kevin Murphy picked up the scoring baton. The Libyan champions went into half-time 50-24 to the good.

The second half started better for City Oilers, with Maluach's big block on South Sudanese compatriot Majok Deng setting the tone.

If the first quarter belonged to Acuil and the second to Murphy, the third was Maluach's as he scored eight third quarter points, made another huge block and enjoyed plenty of success in the rebounding department with nine in the quarter, keeping the Oilers in the game.

At one point, the Ugandan champions had reduced the deficit to 56-46. Heading into the final 10 minutes, Ahly Benghazi's lead had once again grown slightly to 61-48.

Only Maluach's foul count could get in the way of another incredible performance (16 points, 19 rebounds, 7 blocks), which was supported by a solid night from Patrick Rembert (17 points). Ultimately, the night belonged to Acuil (25 points, 6 rebounds, 3 blocks, 3 assists) and Ahly Benghazi, who picked up a 79-68 win.

"I think it was part of the Al Ahly Benghazi gameplan to attack him today - to get him fouls, whether it's on directly or on the post," City Oilers coach Karim Nesba said in the post-match press conference.

"He's a 17-year-old kid. He's done everything - he had 19 rebounds today, which is amazing. Of course, he is going to gain more experience and learn to stay out of foul trouble.

"These guys know each other very well too. His teammates from the national team - he played against them on the other side today. I think he's not only shown he belongs with the best in the BAL, but the next Olympics - I feel they were almost fighting for a spot there. He showed he belongs there too."

Bangui were quickest out of the blocks in the late game against hosts Al Ahly of Cairo, taking an early 6-2 lead through four points from Rolly Fula Nganga and two from Jimmy Djimrabaye.

However, Ahly managed the game well as per usual, taking a 21-18 lead into the break at the end of the first quarter. By half-time, Ahly had 11 scorers as they led 41-38 over a spirited Bangui.

Ahly usually take control of their games in the closing stages, but Bangui stayed within touching distance as Fula kept the scoreboard ticking and Thierry Darlan came alive.

The Central African Republic's homegrown hero led his team to the front midway through the fourth quarter as they took a 70-69 lead off his clutch three-point shot. One of the biggest upsets in BAL history appeared to be on the cards. Ahly responded swiftly after a timeout with a quickfire eight-point run.

It was difficult for Bangui to find a way back from there as Ahly saw out the game. They looked fairly comfortable on the scoreboard, but certainly, it was a closer shave than they budgeted for.

Despite Fula's 27 points and Darlan's 23 points and 14 rebounds, the hosts held on for an 85-79 win.