Scotland secure semi-final place as they hold off against Nigeria in the qualifiers, defeating the African side 66-61.
Undefeated in Group B, Scotland took on Group A bottom placed team Nigeria today in the qualifying round at GoldCoast 2018. Nigeria had shown throughout the tournament that despite their early losses, they were a physically imposing team that crash the boards hard. This had been an issue for Scotland when they played Cameroon and Scotland head coach Rob Beveridge had to game plan effectively.
It only took 15 seconds for Gareth Murray – who came into the game averaging 16.5ppg – to hit a 3 and get the scoring underway. Scotland came out of the gate on fire as Bunyan joined in on the blazing perimeter shooting and Rob Beveridge’s men started 4/4 from behind the arc. The game was a 3-point shootout as Scotland put up five 3’s and converted all of them as they led 15-14 halfway through the 1st. Nigeria also went 4/5 from 3-point land as the crowd cheered for the shootout to continue.
Scotland Coach Beveridge noticed Nigeria reacting to the outside game and changed things up as he put a big group on the floor to match the height of the Nigerians. Rocks’ duo Achara and Murray played excellently off each other, as Murray tricked the Nigerian defence with a backdoor cut off the assist from Kieron, showing Team Scotland’ class. As Scotland picked up the defensive intensity forcing turnovers in the final minutes of the first 1st period they were able to take a 23-16 lead by the end of the quarter.
Nigeria looked like a totally different team early in the 2nd quarter as they closed the gap to two points from some effective offensive play and suffocating defence. Captain Kieron Achara showed the watching world why he is so highly regarded as he got his team back on track, putting his body on the line on defence and working down low on offence inspiring the young Scottish team to put a run together. The Captain continued his excellent play, forcing a turnover and going down the court to be sent to the free throw line. This excellent play from Scotland in the first 5 minutes of the second quarter forced Nigerian coach Abdulraham Mohammed into a timeout as he had to muster his men to try and close the 10-point lead, 31-21.
Ali Fraser, who had his nose broken against India and came into the game sporting a facemask, played a stint of hero ball as he battled down low and then hit the turnaround fade away for the And-1 finish, pushing the Scotland lead to 13 with just over 3 minutes remaining. Mike Vigour hit a 3 to push the lead back to 14 and Scotland’s 3pt % up to 58 through 2 quarters. Abdul Yahaya started to ask questions of Scotland’s interior defence as he battled down low and got an And-1 and converted after Nigeria collected the offensive rebound. Scotland held a strong 12-point lead at halftime over Nigeria as they led 40-28.
Both teams came up empty in their first 2 possessions to open up the 3rd quarter as things began to slow down. Nigeria’s God’sGift Achiuwa came flying over the Scottish defence to throw down the alley-oop that brought the crowd to their feet, as Nigeria began to show off their superior athleticism. Despite this highlight play, both teams were plagued with empty offences as Scotland went 1/7 to open the 3rd and Nigeria didn’t fare much better, 3-8.
Halfway through the 3rd period, Scotland called timeout as the offences had dried up and their 12-point lead was cut to 42-34 and, in a timeout, Rob Beveridge called for his men to attack the rim more. Things did not go to plan straight out of the timeout as Nigeria cut the deficit to 4. Kyle Jimenez played his coach’s plan as he attacked the basket for a score only for Nigeria to hit a 3 in the quick transition as the Scottish lead was now 3 with 2 minutes remaining in the 3rd quarter. The game was tied behind some excellent effort from the Nigerian defence. Achiuwa played his namesake, as he was well and truly God’sGift for his team, grabbing rebounds and assisting Ikechukwu Diogu for 2 consecutive tie baskets. Scotland collapsed in the 3rd quarter as the game was tied going into the final period at 46 a-piece.
Calls began going Scotland’s way as they benefitted from a goaltend and Kyle Jimenez drew a charge, only for him to go down the other end and link up with fellow youngster, Fraser Malcolm for an open layup. Nigeria took the lead as no one boxed out and Azouma Dike scored the putback off an air ball. Nigeria called time as Scotland went on a 7-0 run to lead by 6, Mohammed crying for more discipline and effort on defence. Fraser in the facemask was complaining of vision issues but had no problem seeing the basket as he sunk a deep 3 to open up a 10-point lead.
Jonny Bunyan went down holding his side as Scotland held their breaths seeing one our home-grown superstars go down. Fellow ex-Falkirk Fury team mate Ali Fraser began to be Scotland’s only option on offence as he scored all of the points during this run. Scotland led by 6 as Beveridge called time to discuss the issues with the interior defence, working along with Captain Achara as he inspired his squad to pull out the win in the final 4 minutes.
In the final minute Scotland couldn’t get a basket and Nigeria took advantage, as Diogu halved the gap with a deep 3, forcing a Scottish timeout. Rob Beveridge gave his men very clear instructions; a gameplan that has been played on the world stage time and time again. Rock’s trio Achara, Fraser and Murray played gorgeous intricate basketball that left Gareth Murray an open dunk as Scotland led by 5. Nigeria advanced the ball out of the timeout and attacked the basket. Diogu split his free-throws and Captain Achara battled for the vital rebound. 12.7s left and Murray went to the line and split his freethrows giving Scotland a 5-point lead.
Nigeria couldn’t make anything of their last possession and Scotland sealed a semi-final game as they defeated Nigeria 66-61.
Scotland will now play for a chance of medalling, as they face Australia in the semi-finals this weekend.