Nigeria’s men’s senior basketball national team, D’Tigers continued their winning streak at the 2019 FIBA World Cup, as they whipped the host country, China 86-73, to finish as Africa’s best team and get an automatic ticket to the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan.
Josh Okogie netted a team high 14 points and posted a +24 efficiency rating at Guangzhou Gymnasium on Sunday, to ensure D’Tigers will return to the Asian continent next year for the Olympics, much to the relief and delight of Nigeria Basketball Federation (NBBF) officials, who had been wary of the weight of expenses they would encore through a qualification competition.
However, Sunday’s victory means Nigeria escaped heading to the Olympic Games Qualifying Tournament (OGQT), as D’Tigers picked up three wins, having defeated South Korea , Ivory Coast and China, all of which helped them seal an automatic ticket to Tokyo 2020, by finishing 17th in the overall table of the 2019 FIBA World Cup, after all the classification matches.
China needed victory to pick the qualifying ticket for Asia, but it was D’Tigers that prevailed in a massive fight back, after being 21-19 down in the first quarter, but went on to win the three other quarters 16-10, 25-20 and 26-22 to get an aggregate 86-73 win.
Alex Nwora’s side enacted their third straight win the hard way, silencing the vociferous home fans that dominated the sellout crowd inside Guanzghou Gymnasium, for which the Nigerian coach named an unchanged line-up from the side that defeated Ivory Coast in the previous game, as Ben Uzoh, Ike Diogu, Ekpe Udoh, Aminu Al-Farouq and Okogie all started.
Okogie emerged D’Tigers; best performer, as the Minnesota Timberwolves guard hit 19 points, five rebounds, three assists, three steals and two blocks, as D’Tigers fought back strong after trailing in the first quarter 21-19.
However, Nwora’s men fought harder and the remaining three quarters; 16 – 10 (2nd Q), 25 -20 (3rd Q) and 26 -22 (4th Q), with D’Tigers also leading 35-31 at the end of the first half with Udoh and Farouq proving their class.
The competitive nature of the game continued in the second half of game, but D’Tigers recorded the biggest lead of the game, with a 13 point difference, while China’s widest lead was seven and Nigeria’s biggest scoring run was 75-63, against their opponents’ 17-10.
In the end, D’Tiger’s prevailed 86-73 and will now feature at the 2020 Olympics after finishing tops in Classification Group M on eight points, while China ended second on seven points, as South Korea placed third on six points and Cote d’Ivoire brought up the rear with five points.
Going into Sunday’s games, Nigeria and Tunisia were the two teams left in the race for the sole ticket for Africa with one match to go but, enjoying a superior point difference, D’Tigers held on to the top spot ahead of the 2017 Afrobasket winners, who had inferior points difference.
The win against China ensured D’Tigers’ return to Asia in the summer of 2020 for the Olympics, while Tunisia, who narrowly edged Iran on Sunday, will have to go through to the qualifiers to secure a possible berth in Tokyo next year.
The NBBF’s media unit quickly took to social media to celebrate the feat by D’Tigers, but noted that it came via dint of hard work, as a huge partisan crowd backed the hosts, in an attempt to ensure they also picked a ticket at stake to Tokyo 2020, which Nigeria eventually got.
A post by the NBBF read: “(D’Tigers) holds on and grabs the win over #FIBAWC host in front of a sell-out crowd in Guangzhou, and are qualified for the Olympics! #Tokyo2020.”