Nigeria is going to the Olympics for the first time, and an NBA castoff led them there.
Ike Diogu took over the game after it was tied with 5 1/2 minutes remaining, making four consecutive shots — two of which were 3-pointers — to lead the African nation to an 88-73 victory over the John Calipari-coached Dominican Republic.
Nigeria will be grouped with Lithuania in Team USA’s bracket at the London Games, while Russia — the third team to qualify at the tournament in Venezuela — will be placed into the easier B group with Spain, Brazil, China, Great Britain and Australia.
Nigeria fielded a roster featuring nine players who were born in the United States and just three who were born in Africa.
Diogu, who was cut by the San Antonio Spurs in January and finished the season with the Xinjiang Flying Tigers of the Chinese Basketball Association, finished with game-highs of 25 points and 10 rebounds, going 3-for-4 from 3-point range. Al-Farouq Aminu of the New Orleans Hornets added 14 points, seven rebounds, four assists and two steals.
The Atlanta Hawks’ Al Horford of the Dominican Republic scored just 12 points, and Francisco Garcia of the Sacramento Kings scored 17 but shot just 6-for-15, including 5-for-11 from downtown. The Dominicans shot only 35 percent to negate their 22-19 edge on the offensive boards.
Nigeria, which pulled off a stunning upset by defeating Greece in the quarterfinals, will be making its first-ever Olympic basketball appearance. Diogu and Co. also defeated the host nation, Venezuela, as well as Lithuania during the first round.
Here is what they had to say afterward (note the absence of a single African accent):