Nigeria D’Tigers were unable to sustain an early control going into the second half of the game against Lithuania early Wednesday morning as they battled in game two of Group B at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.
Some Nigerian fans across the globe had lofty hopes of witnessing a repeat miracle that saw Nigeria defeat the Lithuanians at the 2012 Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Caracas, Venezuela. The Nigerian team at the 2012 OQT, led by Coach Ayodele Bakare, handed Lithuania an 86-80 defeat on 2 July 2012. Though Nigeria would eventually lose in the second meeting to Lithuania at the London 2012 Olympics, the tone had been set that the West African country was not to be undermined on the hardwood. Fast-forward to 2016, with an African title on its back, Lithuania knew Nigeria had a psychological edge, earned from the 2012 win in Venezuela, and to increase its chances at reaching the quarterfinals of the Rio 2016 Olympics.
Nigeria looked composed the entire first half of the game and was poised for a win leading 16-13 and 25-23 in the first two quarters. Lithuania, however, went on a 21-8 run in the first eight minutes of the game, putting Nigeria behind 49-59. Lithuania outscored Nigeira 29-13 in the third quarter. An attempted comeback in the fourth quarter sparked-off by forward Andy Ogide with a three-point shot to cut the lead to single digits was not enough as Lithuania sustained its firm hold in the second half to the final buzzer even though Nigeria outscored Lithuania 26-24 in the fourth.
Four players on the Lithuanian team scored in double figures, including 21 points apiece from guard Mantas Kalnietis and forward Jonas Maciulis. Kalnietis was primarily responsible for Lithuania’s smooth offensive game, which earned him 12 assists in the process.
Despite improving on its shot selection from behind the 3-point arc by converting 10-of-23 attempts (43%), largely contributed by Ike Diogu who shot 3-of-6 and Mike Umeh, 3-of-4, it was not enough to keep Nigeria in the game as Lithuania went to the free throw line twice as many times as the Nigerians and converted 85 percent of its attempts from the line.
Diogu led Nigeria with 19 points and 7 rebounds, including 3 offensive boards, 3 steals and 1 block. Umeh followed up with 17 points and a team-high 4 assists and 2 rebounds. Alade Aminu was the only other player that scored in double figures for Nigeria with 12 points and a pair of rebounds.
Ekene Ibekwe was limited to 13:40 minutes in the game as he fouled out with 2:37 minutes to go in the final quarter, contributing 5 points, 3 rebounds and 1 block. Chamberlain Oguchi again could not find his touches in the game, going 1-of-5 from three-point in 28:43 minutes. Oguchi, however, added 6 rebounds, 3 assists and 1 steal to the game.
Three players on the Nigerian team were not in active rotation – Olaseni Lawal, sidelined due to injury sustained in the first quarter of the game against Argentina on Sunday night; Michael Gbinije and Stan Okoye (coach’s decision).
Nigeria has lost its two games played so far in the tournament and is scheduled to play Spain on Thursday 11 August. Spain, Europe’s continental champion, has also lost its two games played so far at the 2016 Olympics. Nigeria and Spain, both continental champions at FIBA’s biennial event, are on the edge of losing out in the race to the quarterfinals of the Rio Olympic Men’s Basketball Tournament.
Image credits: fiba.com