SENDAI (FIBA World Championship) - A day after letting a first half double-digit lead go to waste in a heartbreaking defeat to Lebanon, Venezuela were able to avoid making that same mistake again as they held off Nigeria's late charge to claim their
first win of the FIBA World Championship, 84-77.
Venezuela lost to Lebanon 82-72 despite leading for the better part of three quarters yesterday.
But team captain Victor Diaz wasn't going to let that happen for a second time in as many days and led by example with a team-high 24 points including six three-pointers.
Victor Lugo chipped in with 13 and provided the much-needed intensity at both ends of the court.
Nigeria did not look as confident as they did in their win over Serbia & Montenegro but still led by the slimmest of margins after the first quarter, 17-16, thanks to Ime Udoka and Ebi Ere.
However the game swung in Venezuela's favour early in the second period when Miguel Marriaga and Carlos Morris provided a vital scoring boost off the bench as Nestor Salazar's side started building a double-digit lead that looked like the game could turn into a one-sided affair.
The two substitutes spearheaded a 9-0 run that saw the score jump from a 21-21 tie into a 30-21 lead for the South America nation.
Victor Diaz then made two three-pointers in less than a minute and extended the lead to 17, 41-24 on a lay up.
Nigeria were outscored 26-10 in the second quarter and Udoka, acting again as a makeshift point guard, was having a very tough time bringing the ball up the court against a tough defense as the African nation went into the locker room trailing by 15, 42-27.
Venezuela came out with even more firepower after half time - something they couldn't do yesterday.
Led by Diaz and Torres, they took their biggest lead of the night at 58-37 after the latter converted two free-throws.
Heading into the final quarter with a 15-point advantage, 64-49, Diaz and company looked like they had everything under control.
But Nigeria displayed flashes of the style of play that was so crucial to their success over the world champions the day before and soon were within striking distance.
Udoka, Ere and Aloysius Anagonye led a furious offensive onslaught that saw Sam Vincent's side come back to within five points, 73-68, after Anagonye followed up an Udoka miss.
Diaz could see the game slipping away and took matters in his own hands, hitting a three-pointer from the left wing to give Venezuela a bit of space at 76-68.
Nigeria had one last chance to mount a serious comeback but made questionable choices on fast breaks - settling for threes instead of going for the quick and easy two - and two late turnovers by Udoka all but ended their hopes.
Diaz added a sixth and final three-pointer for safe measure to make it 84-72.
Torres recovered from a poor performance against Lebanon to chip in with 14 points.
Udoka led the way for Nigeria with 23 points but also had four of his team's 12 turnovers.
After the game, Ere admitted Nigeria were not as competitive as they had been against Serbia & Montenegro.
"We were too relaxed today. In this tournament anyone can beat anyone so we can't go into a game with a loose attitude. We need to be tense."
Salazar was happy to see Diaz come through for Venezuela.
"He is our leader, our most experienced player and I was really happy to see put on such a good performance today. He had a tough time yesterday but he was able to forget about it and be ready for today's game."
By Simon Wilkinson