Nigeria’s men’s senior basketball national team, D’Tigers will on Friday seek a day of revival against Canada, as they go out for the second leg of their international friendly in Winnipeg.
It would be a opportunity for Alex Nwora’s squad to make atonement for a defeat they suffered against same team on Wednesday in Toronto, where the Nigerians fell 96-87 to their hosts in the FIBA Basketball World Cup build-up match.
Friday’s game will accord Nwora the opportunity to try out new ideas and see if his players are improving, after they fell to the fellow-World Cup-bound side, despite starting the game on a bright note.
Nwora’s squad caused some ripples among the home fans by winning the first quarter 29-25, but their hosts bounced back to win the second 50-41, the third quarter 72-60 and fourth, to claim supremacy overall.
Despite hopping off the bench to play only 13 minutes, Ike Iroegbu was adjudged Nigeria’s man of the match, after he finished with 12 points, to outshine Uzoh, Nworah, Meth and Al Faroq Aminu, who all started for Nigeria, for who Josh Okogie led with 18 points in the 33rd-ranked team that featured five players with significant NBA experience.
On the other hand, it turned out to be a glorious debut for The Maple Leaf team’s new coach, Nick Nurse, who showed that he is ready to shine with Canada’s national men’s basketball team, despite it being just one game into his tenure as head coach.
The Canadian team gathered on Monday to kick off an ambitious five-week commitment and aiming for a berth in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, which would be the first for them since 2000.
The top seven teams at the FIBA World Cup will earn automatic berths at Tokyo 2020, but both Nigeria and Canada could still make it to Japan’s capital through the backdoor, with another Olympic Games qualifying tournament still coming up next summer.
However, in a summer that was supposed to signal the Golden Age of Canadian basketball, their turnout was disappointing, with numerous big names missing – including NBA stars, Jamal Murray, Andrew Wiggins, RJ Barrett, Tristan Thompson, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Dwight Powell.
Murray and Barrett, who both cited injuries, participated in camp, but they were both seated courtside at Wednesday’s game against Nigeria, along with Toronto Raptors’ new signing, Stanley Johnson.
However, all eyes were on the coach, Nurse, who is expected to take 15 players to Australia before naming his final 12-man roster for the FIBA World Cup, where they will tip off on August 31 versus the host country Down Under.
Less than two months after guiding Toronto Raptors to their first NBA title, Nurse earned victory in his Team Canada debut, after which they play the same team Nigeria again on Friday, then depart to Australia for five games, against the Aussies, New Zealand and United States.
However, it was not all straightforward for them in Wednesday’s game, particularly in the early going, as Canada trailed Nigeria by as many as eight points and were down 20-14 after one quarter in front of a full house at Mattamy Athletic Centre, home to U Sports’ Ryerson Rams.
A lay-in by Wiltjer tied the game 35-35 midway through the second. The Canadians closed the half with four consecutive three-pointers and went into the second with a 50-41 advantage.
Later on, though, Canada led by as many as 17 points in the third quarter before taking a 74-62 lead into the fourth, as Kyle Wiltjer and Khem Birch had 14 points apiece for No. 23-ranked Canada.
Kelly Olynyk had 11 points before leaving the game with an injury midway through the third quarter, but he had to be helped to the locker-room after slipping and falling hard on his knee.
Nurse, who was an assistant on Great Britain’s team at the 2012 London Olympics, was named Canada’s head coach soon after guiding Raptors to their first NBA title, and he was glad with what he saw against Nigeria.
“Pretty happy really with everybody’s performance,” said the coach, who earned a warm cheer from the Mattamy Athletic Centre crowd.
“I look down and there wasn’t one guy (who I thought) ‘Oh, he doesn’t belong.’
Everybody went out there and looked like they belonged on the floor, offensively, defensively, whatever. That was encouraging.”