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Team USA Upset by Nigeria in Exhibition Game

David Becker - Associated Press

There are no good excuses for this one.

It’s early, but the Nigerian Men’s National team sent a warning to the powerhouse United States team with forward Kevin Durant of the Brooklyn Nets and a group of All Star players, holding off the Americans, 90-87, in a pre-Olympic exhibition in Las Vegas. This was a seismic shocker that resonated around the world and was one of the biggest upsets in the history of international basketball.

National team coach Gregg Popovich, whose 2019 national team finished seventh in the World Championships in China, can rationalize the U.S. did not have a complete roster since three key players– including hot shooting 6-6 guard Devin Booker of the Phoenix Suns and guard Jrue Holiday and wing Khris Middleton of the Milwaukee Bucks are still competing in the NBA Championship series, but this team should have been good enough to beat a young African team that is not likely to medal in Tokyo.

The versatile 6-10 Durant, the Americans’ best player on the 2016 gold medal team, led Team USA with 17 points. Forward Jason Tatum of the Boston Celtics had 15 and guard Damien Lillard of the Portland Trailblazers added 14.

But this one shouldn’t have been close. If you are looking for context look no farther than the 2012 summer games in London when the Americans defeated Nigeria, 156-73, in a pool game and in 2016 when the U.S. and Nigeria met in an exhibition, the Americans won 110-66.

“Nigeria’s come a long way with their basketball,” Team USA managing director Jerry Colangelo said.


This time, Nigeria, coached by Warriors’ assistant Mike Brown, pulled off this shocker with a roster primarily filled with little known players. They burned the U.S. from deep, making 20 of 42 threes and never trailing in the fourth quarter. Gabe Nnamdi, who goes by the name of Gabe Vincent when playing for the Miami Heat hit six triples and scored a game high 21 points. Caleb Agada scored 17 points and Ike Nwamu added 13. The Nigerians outscored the Americans 60-30 from three point range. And, taking advantage of the fact the Americans did not have a true seven- -foot rim protector, they outrebounded the U.S., 46-34. The Americans had a poor shooting night, going 26 for 62, just 41 percent.

Team USA was had been nearly invincible in the 2008, 2012 and 2016 Olympics when Mike Krzyzewski was the coach. But Nigeria dictated the outcome of this one. Ike Iroegbu, a former Washington State player who spent some time in the G-League– hit a three pointer with 115 left to put Nigeria up, 88-80. Durant went of for the next seven points for Team USA with a three, two free throws following a turnover and then two more from the line with 16.5 seconds remaining. Nnamdi made a pair of free throws with 13.2 seconds left to build the lead back to three. The Americans ran 9.7 seconds off the clock without getting a shot off and Zach LaVine missed a pair of free throws– the second intentionally– with 3.5 seconds remaining.

Popovich has a day to light a fire under the Americans before they play their second exhibition Monday against Australia.  In a way I’m glad it happened,” Popovich said. “That means nothing if we don’t learn from it. This could be the most important thing in this tournament for us.”

Tatum chimed in with spin control. “Just goes to show we have to do better,” he said. “This is good for us. We are going to learn a lot from film regroup and stay positive.”

All hope is not lost. Team USA should be much better from the perimeter once Booker, Holiday and Middletown join the roster. But that may not be until Tokyo since there is a chance the NBA championship series could run until January 22. The Americans’ first Olympic game in July 25.

Still this was not a scrapbook game.



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