Rivers Hoopers forward, Buchi Nwaiwu scored a career high 35 points to lead Hoopers past Civil Defenders in their opening game of the FIBA Africa Zone 3 Qualifiers in Cotonou on Tuesday.
Nwaiwu added six rebounds and two blocks while Victor Koko contributed 12 points, eight rebounds and six blocks to go with it.
It was Nwaiwu’s first ever 30-point game in his career helping the KingsMen overcome a resilient Defenders’ team.
Nwaiwu made 15/16 of his shots and 50% from the line in 21 minutes played for Hoopers from the bench.
Nwaiwu’s three straight jumpers in the early minutes of the third quarter stretched Hoopers’ lead to 15 points (57-42).
The two teams made 3/14 from the three point line in the game. Hoopers failed to convert a huge number of their free throws, shooting just 24 of 53 from the line.
Defenders made a 12-0 run with 3 minutes remaining in the third quarter to reduce the deficit to 6 points (70-64). A determined Hoopers led by Nwaiwu ensured they did enough to pick their first win of the FIBA Africa Qualifiers despite missing 7/11 of their free throws with 60 seconds remaining in the game.
Four Civil Defence players finished on double figures, captain of the team Joel Ijigba led the way with 16 points, six rebounds and three assists; John Iduh, Ocheibi Okpe and Joseph Alhassan scored 11 points each while Emmanuel Ndibe had 10 points and four assists.
An elated Buchi Nwaiwu described his performance against Defenders as a boost to his career.
“I feel very happy scoring this high for the first time in my career also in an international game. It’s a boost to my career,” he said.
The Imo-born forward is confident Hoopers can win the FIBA Africa Zone 3 tournament.
“We have done a lot as a team to get this far despite not playing in a long league but the short time we had we were able to put it into use. I am confident we will win the tournament.”
Civil Defenders’ captain Joel Ijigba said he would have loved a win as his birthday gift.
“I feel really good I did well but not what I wanted on my birthday. Although we didn’t win, we tried our best and we gave them a good fight. We will go back to our drawing board and also make sure we come back stronger tomorrow and won’t allow the performance affect us. All hope is not lost I feel we still have the chance to qualify.”
Rivers Hoopers will next play Braves-Customs of Ghana at 1pm while Defenders will take on AS Police of Niger Republic at 3pm on Wednesday.