SENDAI (FIBA World Championship) - Nigeria cruised to a 95-72 win over Lebanon to book their place in the second round and knock the Middle East side out of the competition a day after their historical win over France.
Eri Ebe led six players in double figures with 19 points as Sam Vincent's men snapped a three-game losing streak and played their best basketball of the group stages in their biggest game.
"This is the best game we've played so far in the tournament and it couldn't have been better timed. We needed a big win as no other result was going to get us to the second round. The players all seemed to click and they all contributed to this historical moment," he said.
Lebanon, coming off a shock upset of France last night, looked tired from the start and only led on the first basket of the game.
They trailed by eight at the end of the first quarter, 25-17, as Ime Udoku and Julius Nwosu did the damage early to lead Nigeria to its best offensive display so far.
Vincent's men were especially accurate from three-point territory, shooting a very good 40 per cent (10 of 25), in an area where they had struggled for most of the past four games.
Lebanon's deficit reached double-digits on the first basket of the second period, a three-pointer by Jeff Varem for a 28-17 lead.
Nigeria kept their lead over 10 points for the rest of the half, going into the locker room with a 47-33 advantage.
Lebanon, led by Rony Fahed's 23 points, never gave up and fought hard to stop Nigeria from taking an insurmountable lead.
They trailed by 12, 70-58, at the end of the third quarter, keeping their hopes - albeit slim - alive to come back and save the provisional place for the knockout stages they had earned last night.
But Ere, Tunji Awajobi and Jeff Varem made sure that Kosai Khalaf's men did not make a fourth quarter comeback and extended the lead to 22, 85-63 on Ere's three-pointer before closing the game out in style as Derrick Obasohan connected on an alley oop with Ekene Ibekwe who threw down a powerful two-handed dunk.
After the game, Kosai admitted that his men were tired from their shock win over France last night.
"Nigeria played great and we were still feeling quite tired after our win over France. We played very hard to win that game and felt the consequences of it today," he said.
"But I take my hat off to Nigeria. They deserved to win and I wish them all the best in the next round. As for us, we will cherish this experience. It has been very positive for all the players."
Fahed also had some praise for Nigeria's great collective effort.
"They played as a team today and that proved to be very successful. They have some great athletes and out rebounded us."
"But we must keep our heads held high and be proud of what we achieved. We couldn't prepare as much as we wanted to back in Lebanon because of the war.
“We didn't have all our best players available and we had to leave the country to prepare. And of course our coach has been sick for the last two days. It would have been incredible to finish second in the group had we won today, but Nigeria came out better prepared than we were."
Awajobi was at a loss for words after accomplishing a great historical feat for Nigeria.
"I am very proud of our team and all the players for overcoming all the ups and downs. I'm proud that we are able to be one of the first teams to reach the second round of the competition."
Nigeria looks likely to finish third in the group, but everything still depends on the outcome of today's last game between France and Venezuela.
However the prospect of a second round encounter with Germany held a special interest for Vincent.
"It's ironic because I coached a team in Texas last year and I would often go and see Dirk Nowitzki play," he said. "It will be a tough game, but then again regardless of who our opponent is in the next round, it's going to be a special occasion and we'll have to come in focused and play as a team as we did today to have a chance of reaching the last eight."
By Simon Wilkinson