Nigeria will play in their first ever Olympic Games after surviving the toughest of challenges from the Dominican Republic, 88-73.
Tournament superstar Ike Diogu (25 points) made all the big plays in crunch time when it look like the Nigerians were about to be overrun.
He received support from Al Farouq Aminu (14 points) and Derrick Obasohan (11) in a grinding team effort.
Francisco Garcia’s (17 points) hot shooting almost delivered victory for the Dominicans, while Jack-Michael Martinez (16) was their rock of Gibraltar early in the game.
With the majority of the local crowd supporting their Caribbean neighbours, the Dominican Republic burst out of the blocks.
Point guard Juan Coronado in an aggressive mood their offence looked smooth on route to a 14-6 lead midway through the first quarter.
But five straight points from Al Farouq brought the African fans to life and sparked his team.
A dunk from his brother Alade Aminu brought the margin within one, then a Dagunduro steal and score gave Nigeria a lead they would not relinquish.
Al Farouq threatened to blow the game open in the second term but Martinez was like a man possessed, moving past 10 points and making his presence felt defensively.
When he scored his 15th point on a tough low-post move over two defenders the margin was just two, but Diogu immediately stemmed the tide with a mid-range jumper and Nigeria took an eight-point advantage to the locker room.
In the third quarter it was Baez’s turn to carry the Dominican Republic from inside and out, and gradually his team wittered away a double-digit deficit.
A Josh Asselin rebound and basket made the difference just two points with a minute to play, but Skinn nailed a big triple to momentarily silence the crowd.
But the Poliedro de Caracas erupted again as Garcia struck a trademark triple and the three-quarter time score was 59-57 to Nigeria.
With momentum squarely against them, Diogu and Derrick Obasohan scored on the first two plays of the final term to stretch the lead to seven and it was Nigerian drums beating again.
The Dominicans were not done, however, and a Coronado triple followed by two Baez free throws squared the game with 5:30 to play.
But Diogu has been the heart and soul of this Nigerian team and he carried them to the biggest victory in their coutnry’s history.
First he hit a tough interior basket, stepped out and nailed two enormous triples, then hit spinning floater to finally put paid to the Dominican resistance before the lead blew out in the final minute.
Courtesy FIBA website
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