The Nigerians were part of arguably the most egregious performance ever in their 83-point loss to Team USA but the loss wasn’t quite egregious enough to eradicate their morale. Nigeria played remarkably well given the circumstances — they were considerably overmatched and with little to play for — and improved incrementally as they lost to France, 79-73.
Their start wasn’t encouraging, though. France opened the game on a 15-5 run after scoring the first nine points. The French offense managed to operate efficiently even though Tony Parker, the catalyst to their offense, struggled to get anything going. As that happened, they created a couple of good looks by feeding Mickael Gellabale down low and forcing the defense to collapse. The Nigerian defense also allowed the French to run out in transition, stemming from their nine turnovers in the first period. They entered the second quarter with a 13-point deficit.
In the ensuing period, the Nigerians experienced a modicum of success, enough to instill enough confidence to sustain their play for the entire game. They instituted a zone defense that stymied the French offense and, simultaneously, received timely shooting outbursts from Derrick Obasohan and Chamberlain Oguchi. The lead was whittled down to six points before their zone lost effectiveness. Eventually, Les Bleus found the soft spots and broke out of their initial 0-for-7 slump from behind the arc. At this juncture, the entire Nigerian offense was completely inert as Oguchi and Obasohan combined for 28 of their 30 first half points.
Oguchi continued his inordinately hot shooting, finishing with 13 points in the third frame. He was an intricate part of their 14-2 rally before Gellabale temporarily halted the run with a 3-pointer. Yet it was the third period where it was apparent that France weren’t going to simply waltz to a fourth victory. They allowed 62% from the field which wasn’t necessarily their fault. Nigeria was making shots irrespective to defensive effort.
The scoring distribution wasn’t as lopsided but Nigeria still depended on Oguchi to carry the offense. It was a battle of attrition that required a low margin for error and thus was highly unlikely to prevail over a steady attack. Nicolas Batum responded, adding in 14 points in the fourth period, depleting their chances at making a run. Every points they happened to conjure, Batum countered in transition and behind the arc. Oguchi poured in a game-high 35 points on 10-of-20 shooting but that wasn’t enough to supplant the lack of depth around him. Al Farouq-Aminu and Ike Diogu, both current NBA talents, uncharacteristically combined for 15 points.
Parker regressed a bit after a couple of encouraging performances, totaling three points and seven assists. He didn’t look capable of breaking down any defense, much less an elite one, so perhaps this was just a blip on an otherwise steady rehabilitation.
France secured the second slot in Pool A with their fourth preliminary victory. Their next opponent will either be Spain or Brazil in the quarterfinal round. As for the Nigerians, they will exit the tournament where they began except they will leave with some sense of accomplishment, however small that may be.