SENDAI (FIBA World Championship) - Nigeria showed the FIBA World Championship title holders Serbia & Montenegro why they are a side to reckon with as they held on to shock them 82-75 in a thrilling encounter.
Throughout the game, Sam Vincent's men showed no signs of faltering and responded to the defending champions' many rallies.
Even after their star player - Ime Udoka who finished with 18 points - fouled out, Nigeria maintained their composure and held on for a crucial win which will get the attention of the group's other favourites, Argentina and France.
Point guard Josh Akognon had the play of the game with about three minutes left in the contest when he made his only basket of the game.
Serbia & Montenegro center Darko Milicic poked the ball away from Julius Nwosu and it went in Nigeria's backcourt. Akognon chased it down, brought it up court and buried a tough three-pointer with the shot clock close to expiring to give his team a
74-66 lead that deflated the opponents.
Veteran player Julius Nwosu also was instrumental to the team's success, grabbing several offensive boards in the first half and scoring a late basket that all but wrapped up the win.
He also got the cheers from the crowd when he combined with Udoka for the nicest play of the game, working the give and go to perfection with the swingman in the second quarter.
Nigeria surprised early on as they used an 11-3 run midway through the first quarter to turn an 11-8 deficit into a 19-11 lead. Ebi Ere, who finished with 15 points, capped off the spurt with a three-pointer and a fastbreak lay-up on back-to-back possessions.
However Serbia & Montenegro fought back, narrowing the deficit to 26-19 at the end of the first quarter and thanks to the strong play of veteran Igor Rakocevic, had cut it down even further by half-time, 42-38, after the guard converted a tough leaning jump shot at the buzzer.
Udoka and Rakocevic got into a bit of a shooting contest in the third quarter. The Serbia & Montenegro star made a tough three-pointer with Udoka in his way to cut Nigeria's lead to 53-52. But Udoka made a more crucial shot from downtown when his broke a deadlock to give his side a 59-56 lead at the end of the third quarter.
Chamberlain Oguchi made back-to-back three pointers in the early stages of the final period to give Nigeria some more breathing room at 71-63 but Serbia & Montenegro stayed within striking distance and were only down by four, 77-73 after Uros Tripkovic made a pair from behind the arc.
Nigeria though were able to keep their cool and Gabe Muoneke and Ere made five free-throws down the stretch to hold off any last minute upset.
Rakocevic led the way for Serbia & Montenegro with 20 points. None of his teammates reached double figures.
"We came out, believed in ourselves and stuck to our game plan which was the key thing to do," Udoke said afterwards.
"We now have a vital win under our belt. We got off to the best possible start in this championship and we look forward to the next game."
"We played a hard game but a lot of our players lacked experience of playing in such a competition," Radocevic explained. "We didn't execute well and we didn't do a good job of boxing out against a very athletic team. I think they can surprise other bigger and better teams."