LONDON — In the opening game of Olympic men's basketball competition
, Nigeria edged African rival Tunisia Sunday, 60-56.
Both African teams were making their debuts in Olympic men's basketball. It looked like Nigeria, faster, stronger and quicker to the ball, was headed for an easy victory over Tunisia. "D'Tigers" of Nigeria led by as many as 19 points in the first half and took a 31-15 lead into the break.
But the Tunisians, the reigning African champions, rallied in the second half.
Led by captain Amine Rzig, who had a game-high 18 points, the Tunisians closed the gap to two points late in the game.
Nigeria's Al-Farouq Aminu, who plays for the NBA's New Orleans Hornets club, made some key free throws at the end of the game to clinch the victory.
He tallied 10 points and nine rebounds, while his older brother, 24-year-old Alade, had a team-high 15 points and nine rebounds.
Alade Aminu told VOA it was thrilling to be a part of Nigeria's first ever Olympic victory in men's basketball.
“History in the making right here," said Alade Aminu. "I feel like a living legend. I mean it is history of the Olympics, not having been here before. Everything we do is history from here on out. It is just a beautiful feeling. All my heritage and all my roots are in Nigeria, back home in Africa. I know 120-million people back home are really happy. We put Nigeria and basketball also on the map."
Alade Aminu also said the Tunisians showed a lot of fighting spirit with their second-half comeback.
“You gotta give Tunisia a lot of credit," he said. "They showed a lot of resilience. They could have folded. They could have said, 'OK, this is a better team.' But they showed a lot of fight. So give a lot of credit to Tunisia. It is our job to try to make it look easy, but it was not easy. I mean they showed a lot of heart right there at the end. But luckily, we had a little grit and a little grind at the end to be able to pull it out."
The Aminu brothers were born in the United States to Nigerian parents. They are part of a Nigerian Olympic team dominated by players with both Nigeria and U.S. citizenship.
In preliminary round action Tuesday, Nigeria will play Lithuania and Tunisia will take on the gold-medal favorite United States.
A crowd of almost 7,000 attended the Nigeria-Tunisia game at the Olympic Park Basketball Arena, one of the largest temporary venues ever built for an Olympics. The 12-team Olympic men's basketball tournament will culminate August 12th with the gold medal game.