A late rally ensured Rivers Hoopers beat Nigeria Customs by 96-91 points at the Sports Hall of the National Stadium in Lagos on Thursday thus extending their imperious winning streak on the road to five games.
Solomon Ajegbeyi led four other players to score in double figures. Ajegbeyi scored 20 points and 9 rebounds, Oba Orinari added 16 points and 5 rebounds while Emmanuel Balogun, Ronald Alalibo and Benjamin Ikechukwu all contributed in double figures.
The KingsMen struggled to get their rhythm committing terrible errors defensively and making only 4 bucket shots at the end of first quarter but the end as they say justified the means. The big men came to the party when it mattered most, matching the same level of physicality with their hosts.
Ajegbeyi’s performance in each game he has featured, has proved the former Customs forward is not ready to take it slow. Riding on the back of an impressive display at the All Star Weekend where he finished with 28 points and 15 rebounds, Ajegbeyi proved pivotal for the Ogoh Oduadu-led team. Thursday’s game against his former club was not different from the usual, as he scored 20 points and for the second time in his last three league games narrowly fell short of his fifth double-double of the season.
On his return to action, Oba Orinari who missed Hoopers’ last five games due to fitness issues helped the team settle in properly before half time. The centre made 16 points and 5 rebounds to go with it.
At the other end was Customs’ Ayodele Oluwaseyi who scored 20 points and 3 assists leading three of his teammates to score in double digits. Other members of the team with double digits are Seun Akinwale, 12 points and 4 rebounds, Afuwape Okiki with 11 points and 5 rebounds while Solomon Igho, the only player with a double-double in the game made 10 points and 10 rebounds.
Hoopers Shooting guards were also not left out in this entertaining encounter as they all ended up contributing double figures. Emmanuel Balogun continued from where he left off at the All Star game, scoring 14 points and 2 blocks, Ronald Alalibo made 10 points and 4 rebounds while another returnee, Ikechukwu Benjamin who missed the entire second round of games due to personal engagements, contributed 12 points and 3 rebounds.
Hoopers had a smoother run in the last two quarters outscoring their opponents. The KingsMen made 10 of its 28 three point shots in the entire game and failed to make 13 of their 33 free throws which would have counted in their favour.
The game was tied only twice in the third quarter 57-57 (2:43 seconds left to play) and 64-64 with 54 seconds remaining. Customs could barely move their legs and match the Port Harcourt club pace for pace like they started off. Hoopers took full advantage of Customs who seemingly tired out in the latter stages of the game to win the keenly contested encounter.
After the game, a happy Rivers Hoopers head coach, Ogoh Odaudu was grateful his team got their groove back right on time to win it.
”We didn’t start the game off properly the only worry I had was how soon they were going to pick up and they didn’t pick up too soon, but eventually we ran away with the victory so that’s the saving grace.”
“They played themselves out in the first, two quarters. You can see that it’s an experienced team and there are a lot of veterans on the team. I had a lot of young stars on my team and the game plan was to run them right from the beginning all till the end. It paid off in the latter stages of the game where they got tired and we started getting easy buckets,” added Odaudu.
Odaudu’s counterparts at Nigeria Customs, Scott Nnaji attributed his team’s loss to fatigue and poor preparation.
“Most of the players lost concentration and partly also fatigue set in. The two weeks break is a disadvantage to us because when you stay off and come back immediately and you are playing a very strong team, it makes it difficult for the players to catch up again.
“But what we did wrong was that because of the people going for the all stars so we gave everybody a break and that slowed them down and you know if you tell players to work out on their own they will not. You could see most of them were panting and we had to be making substitutions over and over,” Nnaji explained.
Rivers Hoopers will play Police Baton on Saturday in Lagos.
OTHER RESULTS IN THE ATLANTIC CONFERENCE
Oluyole Warriors 83 – 52 NAF Rockets
Kwara Falcons 76- 66 Hoops & Read
Police Baton 76- 72 Delta Force