Nigeria's team to the AfroBasket qualifiers in Kigali. Photo Credit: @FIBA

Nigeria’s D’Tigers ran out on a 3-0 winning streak to easily book their passage into the next phase of the 2021 AfroBasket Championships qualifiers, leaving Kigali with a 100% record, with victories against South Sudan, host nation Rwanda and then Mali.

Under a new coach and a raft of newbies who were making their debuts for Nigeria, it was always going to be experimental as coach Mike Brown gets to the task of guiding the former African Champions, commencing with the qualifiers.

Nigeria had won their first two games by 20pts and 21pts margins, and although they won the third game on Sunday by as much as 23pts, the scoreline doesn’t tell the whole story of how the game had gone.

In games against South Sudan and Rwanda, Nigeria had led after the first quarter in those games but found themselves in unfamiliar territory playing against Mali who closed out the first quarter with a 3pt lead.

It was by far the toughest match D’Tigers had played, but they found a way to respond to the challenge, taking control of the 2nd quarter and outscoring Mali by 11pts. It was the resurgence they needed, holding out strongly even when Mali tried to find a way back.

Ibrahim Djambo was particularly outstanding and clinical with his outside shots, and he drove his Malian teammates, making a game-high 22pts and 5 rebounds. However, Nigeria had a more talented depth in their squad, led by the two Ikes, Iroegbu and Diogu who contributed for a combined 31pts which played a vital role in the outcome of the game.

Although Nigeria finished with a much wider gap of 23pts, it was far from the truer picture of the game. However the team won’t care much, they have now qualified for the next phase, that’s what has been paramount for them.

Victories against South Sudan, Rwanda and Mali might have been expected, but it’s a testament to the fact that Nigeria has become a big force and have a large pool of talent to draw from.

Winning the AfroBasket Championships for the first time in 2015 and finishing runners up in 2017, Nigeria will remain the favourites to win the crown in 2021. With a horde of talented players who have Nigerian roots now drafted in the NBA, and Brown who has an NBA experience coaching the team, Nigeria will not just be dominant in Africa, the world will now start taking notice.

Athletics coverage was a discovery, having to move away from regularly writing about Football. Although it was initially daunting, but now being an authority in it makes the past effort worthwhile. From travelling on the same international flight with Nigerian athletes, to knowing you could easily interview: World Record holder Tobi Amusan, then Ese Brume, I have cut my teeth in this beat earning the trust of Athletics sources. Formerly the Content Manager-Sports at Ringier media Nigeria, Chris is a Senior Sports writer, Photographer & Community manager at Making of Champions.


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