Nigeria’s D’Tigers began the defense of their Afrobasket title in Tunisia by defeating Ivory Coast 78-77 in what was a very nervy encounter between the two countries.
It looked like it would be another routine victory for the defending champions, but they had to dig deep to be able to overcome a resolute Ivorian team who worked out a game plan to curtail D’Tigers in the 4th quarter.
Going into the break at half time, Nigeria led by 42-33, at some point it was a 13-point lead to the champions, but they lost the big lead allowing Ivory Coast to come within seconds of a famous victory.
It started becoming worrisome for the Nigerians when Salim Kone and Eric Tape were easily converting their outside shots, reducing the deficit as D’Tigers didn’t seem to find some luck with theirs.
In fact Ivory Coast made 12 of their 32 attempted outside shots, five more than Nigeria who made 7 in 12 shots all game, and most of those conversions came in the last two quarters.
At the end of the third quarter, the Ivorians successfully reduced it to three points which gave them a lot of belief coming into the 4th quarter as they led for the first time in the game.
Then came the technical foul by Nigeria, and when Ivory Coast made the free throws, Kone sunk in a 3 that opened up a gap. The Nigerians needed a response and captain Ike Diogu came to the rescue.
Diogu came up with two back to back 3 points shot in between a 3 from Ivory Coast. It was what inspired belief in a Nigerian side that was struggling to match up with the Ivorians brewing with a lot of confidence.
When Tiegbe Bamba converted one of his free throws, it looked like Ivory Coast were destined for the win as they led with a 1 point and less that 20s to play. However Point Guard Ikenna Iroegbu who had been very good through out the match assisted Okaro Akakume to make two valuable points that shot D’Tigers into the lead which won them the game.
It was heartbreaking for Ivory Coast to see their lead slip and not see out the game over D’Tigers who have begun their title defense with a win.
A large part of the last title winning team didn’t make this tournament, but with Diogu in the side and contributing 31 points, 8 rebounds against Ivory Coast, his experience is quite valuable for the younger ones like Iroegbu and Bryant Mbamalu.
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