Team Nigeria's men's basketball team, D'Tigers, have booked their first ever place in the Olympic Games after defeating the world's fourth and fifth ranked teams and dismissing the Dominican Republic in the final qualifying game in Venezuela last night.
D'Tigers survived a third quarter fightback in Sunday night's 88-73 victory over the Dominican Republic to secure the final ticket to London and become Africa's second team at the Games, alongside Tunisia.
Russia and Lithuania also came through the tournament in Caracas to qualify.
The win against the Dominican Republic followed one of the upsets of the tournament, in which D'Tigers disposed of one of the Olympic title favourites Lithuania with an 86-80 win in a game that provided an excellent display of big shooting.
D'Tigers qualification adds to a successful run of preparatory games, with the current crop of players only having two weeks to bond as a team.
Despite being forced to change from their lucky all-green strip to an all-white second strip, D'Tigers looked comfortable throughout the game, with Ike Diogu and Aminu Junior putting in stand-out performances all night.
Diogu – who was named the Most Valuable Player (MVP) on the night and scored 25 points over the three qualifiers – was a key figure in the fourth quarter especially, during which he was the main focus of the West African's attacks, while Al Farouq Aminu spearheaded the defence and made five of Nigeria's eight blocks.
But the Dominicans were no slouches themselves and went on a number of repeated runs after falling behind by a double-digit margin at one stage, and managed to tie the game once and come within two points in the later stages.
Jack-Michael Martinez did some damage from distance while his namesake Marlon managed to find joy through the middle on several occasions.
But Nigeria coach Ayo Bakare used his bench well, injecting life and pace into both attack and defence by substituting his role players at key moments. And despite some poor shooting from the line, his tactics paid off.
After the game, star Diogu indicated that the West Africans would not just be in London to make up the numbers and that they are hoping to carry the momentum into the Olympic tournament and beyond.
“The group we have this year is not like any group we’ve ever had. When we assembled the first thing coach said was ‘let’s make history’,” Diogu said.
“[But the team is] not just a one year thing, we want to have sustainable success and that’s what we’re working towards.”
Coach Bakare echoed Diogu's ambition and emphasised the significance of D'Tigers' achievement.
“We came here with less than one per cent of the funds football would have got if they had the same opportunity,” said Bakare.
He added: “We’re trying to build the team for the next 10 years. Hopefully they can continue learning and continue growing, keep bringing young players in and us older players keep tutoring them and showing the way.”
The Olympic basketball tournament is scheduled to be held from 28 July to 12 August at The O2 Arena in Greenwich. Follow all the action at www.nigerianwatch.com
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