RADES, Tunisia — Tunisia won its second African basketball championship when it dethroned Nigeria 77-65 in the final on Saturday.
Backed by a home crowd, Tunisia used clutch 3-point shooting to keep Nigeria at bay in the second half.
Ziyed Chennoufi led Tunisia with 19 points, and Nizar Knioua added 16.
Tunisia played the tournament without Salah Mejri, a 2.18-meter (7-foot-2) center for the Dallas Mavericks. Mejri, who is recovering from a knee injury, was the MVP of Tunisia’s title run in the 2011 AfroBasket.
Nigeria was trying to become the first team to successfully defend the title in eight years.
Ike Diogu led Nigeria with 20 points and 10 rebounds, and was named MVP of the tournament after averaging 22 points per game.
Tunisia coach Mario Palma dedicated the victory to the Tunisian people. The Arab Spring uprisings began in Tunisia, which is struggling with youth unemployment and terrorism concerns.
“This victory is going to help a lot of people who suffer, who don’t have money, who are poor,” Palma said. “They’re going to have a few weeks to feel well.”
Palma, a 67-year-old Portuguese-Angolan, coached Angola to four consecutive AfroBasket titles, from 1999 to 2005.
Palma said his team held 84 practices. In contrast, Nigeria was assembled, and a new coach hired, just a few weeks before the tournament.
“Obviously, everybody in the locker room is upset,” Diogu said. “It was a learning experience, and we’ll be back.”
Diogu, selected ninth overall by the Golden State Warriors in the 2005 NBA Draft, was the lone returnee from Nigeria’s championship team. But he didn’t compete in the 2015 tourney after injuring a calf muscle in training camp.
After Bryant MBamalu’s jumper extended Nigeria’s lead to 18-8 with 8:51 to play in the second quarter, Palma called a timeout and yelled at his players: “Move the ball!”
Tunisia fought back to end the half leading 25-24. At halftime, Palma told his players that the Nigerians were tired, and they should take advantage of it.
“I told my players that the first five minutes are very important. Don’t give them confidence. No second shots,” Palma said. “They are tired. They cannot play against us.”
The Tunisians opened the second half with a 19-6 run, backed by Chennoufi’s eight points.
In the fourth quarter, Nigeria closed the deficit to 68-61 on O’Karo Akamune’s dunk with 2:02 remaining.
Once again, however, Tunisia responded. Omar Abada’s 3-pointer provided a 10-point cushion and Mourad El Mabrouk added another long ball, giving Tunisia a 74-63 lead with 43 seconds left.
Tunisia shot 37.5 percent from 3-point range; Knioua was 4 of 5 and Chennoufi was 4 of 6.
Ike Iroegbu added 17 points for Nigeria.
The Tunisian players cut down the nets and invited their children on the podium when they received their gold medals.