Nigeria’s male basketball team D’Tigers defeated their counterparts from Mali 81-63 in their opening match at the 2021 Afrobasket in Rwanda to pick up an important win on the opening day of the tournament.
After the disappointment of crashing out of the Tokyo Olympics in the preliminary round, D’Tigers headed into the Afrobasket opener against Mali without any of the stars from the NBA who were on the roster at the Olympics, with the restriction of participation of players from the NBA meaning that none of Precious Achiuwa, Jordan Nwora, Gabe Nnamdi, Jahlil Okafor, KZ Okpala, Chimezie Metu and the other six players from the Olympics team was part of the team in Rwanda. Coach Mike Brown picked a fresh roster of 12 made up of ten players from Europe and America, and two others, Victor Anthony Koko and Benjamin Ikechukwu from Nigerian side, Rivers Hoopers, for the competition.
After breezing through the qualifiers for the tournament, D’Tigers played their first match of the Afrobasket against an experienced Mali outfit and won the first quarter 28-12 before a second quarter fightback saw the Malians win the second quarter 31-16 to go into halftime only one point behind Nigeria, with the scores at 44-43. The D’Tigers came out guns blazing in the third quarter as they raced to a 27-10 win to open up a 71-53 lead over their opponents, before surrendering the fourth quarter to Mali 20-10, ending a terrific game of basketball 81-73. Twenty-six year old USA-born shooting guard Ben Emelogu led the scoring for the D’Tigers with 18 points, eight rebounds and four assists, and the team captain Stephen Domingo scored 16 points on his debut for the national team. Emelogu troubled the Malians from deep with his shooting as he scored six from nine of his shots from deep.
D’Tigers coach Brown was impressed by the performance of his team against Mali, and he praised the strength in depth of the side representing the country at Kigali. D’Tigers will continue their Afrobasket campaign on Friday, August 27th, against Kenya, before taking on Ivory Coast in their final preliminary round game. The Nigerian team will hope to improve on their third-place finish from the last Afrobasket.