Nigeria's men's basketball team, also known as D’Tigers, will continue their quest for glory on Tuesday at the London 2012 Olympic Games with a must-win game against Lithuania in Group A of the Olympic Basketball Tournament.
Tuesday's encounter is a must-win tie for the Nigerians as anything short of a victory over the European side will make their quest of advancing to the tournament's quarterfinals almost impossible owing to the level of opposition that awaits them in their upcoming games.
On Thursday, August 2, the Ayo Bakare-tutored side will face their biggest challenge to date in a historical game against gold medal favourites the United States of America, followed by games against 2004 Olympic champions Argentina and 2000 Olympic silver medallists France on August 4 and 6 respectively.
Last Sunday, D’Tigers, making their debut appearance at the Olympics, defeated fellow debutants and African champions Tunisia 60-56 in a tension-soaked match, but will need to churn out an improved performance against a Lithuanian side desperate to make amends after losing their opening match 79-102 to Argentina.
Making amends for Sunday's loss to the Argentines won't be the only thing on the minds of the Lithuanians as they will also be eager to avenge their loss to the Nigerians at the recent FIBA Olympic qualifying tournament in Venezuela.
On July 4 in the Venezuelan capital, Caracas the Nigerians defeated the Lithuanians 86-80 in a match they desperately needed to win having lost their opening game to the host country. That win ended up propelling the side to the quarterfinals where they defeated the world's fourth-ranked side Greece 80-79 before losing to Russia in the semi-finals, only to grab the final available spot to the Olympics with a thrilling 88-73 victory over the Dominican Republic on July 8.
The loss to Nigeria in Caracas came as a shock to the Lithuanians, who have made it to the semi-finals of every Olympic Games since the Barcelona ‘92 Games, but they will probably feel confident of doing exactly that after watching the Nigerians against the Tunisians.
After appearing to be in absolute control of the game at the midway stage with a 31-15 lead, the Nigerians allowed the North Africans to get back into the contest and close the gap to within two points late in the final quarter.
But just as it appeared as if the Tunisians were going to snatch a win, Belgium-based guard Ade Dagunduro and United States-based forward Al-Farouq Aminu, rose to the occasion with some good clutch plays to hand victory to the Nigerians.
The Lithuanians already know all they need to know about Aminu after the New Orleans Hornets forward nailed them with 16 points and nine rebounds in their loss to the Nigerians in Caracas, and will be prepared to curtail his game on Tuesday.
The Europeans will also have their sights on Derrick Obasohan, who grabbed 20 points against them in that 80-86 loss, as well as Aminu’s older brother, Alade who was the star of the Nigerian team in Sunday's win over Tunisia with 15 points and nine rebounds.
But with four teams billed to qualify for the quarterfinals from Group A, a loss to the Nigerians may not necessarily spell doom for the Lithuanians, while two wins may just be enough for the Nigerians to progress especially if they are able to keep the margin of defeat at a respectable level when they square up against the United States, Argentina and France.
- Andrew Ifeanyi