The first round of matches played in Egypt and Rwanda has concluded on Sunday, with the final games scheduled for February 2021.
Nigeria, Senegal and Tunisia ended their FIBA AfroBasket 2021 first round campaign with a perfect record in Kigali, Rwanda.
Hosts Egypt also stayed top of their group after their final match on Sunday at home in Alexandria.
Nigeria, the first African team to qualify for Tokyo 2020 from the 2019 World Championships, put in a valiant display in all their three games, scoring one of the highest number of game points from all the five groups of qualifiers.
Other notable performers from the first round of qualifiers were South Sudan and East African neighbours Kenya and Uganda.
Under their new coach Michael Brown, 2017 AfroBasket runners-up Nigeria were in sublime form throughout the tournament and were relentless in the final qualifying game against Mali.
The all West-African clash had Mali confidently looking to close in the gap as they trailed 61-51 going into the last quarter.
Mali came out on the offensive but the new look Nigerian team comprising young and some seasoned players led by the captain Ike Diogu ensured they finish the qualifiers 3-0.
A game-high 17 points from former Los Angeles Clipper point guard Ike Iroegbu ensured Nigeria roll past Mali 91-68.
Nigeria began their qualifiers campaign with a 76-56 win over South Sudan, while Iroegbu’s 18 points highlighted their 83-62 win over hosts Rwanda.
The dominant display excited coach Brown as he prepares to guide the team at the Tokyo Olympics.
“We haven’t been together long, so we can improve in a lot of different areas,” said Brown, an associate head coach for the Golden State Warriors.
“These guys are extremely talented, they are very smart and are hungry, they want to play the right way and they want to play right. And once we get close to our ceiling, I feel bad for the others.” - Nigerian coach Michael Brown.
Defending AfroBasket champions Tunisia showed their intent to retain the title with a tournament-ending 80-63 win over the Central Africa Republic on Sunday.
"Our team is made up of old and young players and we needed to find the right atmosphere for the team. We got better game by game, moving the ball better and communicating better as a team,” said Tunisian player Mourad El Mabrouk, the 2012 Olympian, who contributed with 15 points in the last game in Kigali.
Tunisia, who alongside Senegal are looking to book their tickets to the Tokyo Games next year, also edged out Democratic Republic of Congo 61-50, after opening their campaign with an 89-52 victory over Madagascar, who finished bottom of Group A.
Despite missing most of their top players, who failed to travel due to restrictions arising from the pandemic, Group B leaders Senegal managed to secure close victories against Portuguese sides Angola (66-51) and Mozambique (60-53).
The youthful Senegalese team under the guidance of Boniface Ndong, who made his coaching debut in their first game against Kenya, secured a morale-boosting 92-54 in the opener.
Antwerp Giants' Ibrahima Faye, 23, who made his debut for Senegal at the 2019 World Cup, netted a game-high 19 points.
Ndong was delighted by his winning start as coach at the Afrobasket Qualifiers.
"Everybody back home knows that we have not won the AfroBasket in 23 years now. I want that to be in the minds of the players." - Senegal coach Boniface Ndong.
“They have to appreciate everything that they do on the court. This is the mentality that we must take away. Every time that we are on the court, we have to go 100%," explained Ndong.
Group E hosts Egypt, fielding one of the youngest teams in the qualifiers, showcased some of their potential future stars.
Led by former MVPs of the FIBA U18 African Championships 2010 and 2012 Aly Ahmed and Ehab Amine, Egypt sealed their winning runs in the first round of qualifiers with a 99-76 victory over Morocco on Sunday.
The North Africans, who last won the AfroBasket in 1983, had earlier edged past Cape Verde 91-82 after beating Uganda 96-77 in their opener.
"My long-term plan as head coach of this team is to play with a team that averages 24 to 25 years old," said Egyptian coach Ahmed Marei. "Why? Because every single year we have new players. We need consistency and continuity to build a successful team."
Cote d’Ivoire, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, and Guinea had already played their first-round Group C matches in Yaoundé during the February 2020 window before the tournament was postponed due to the pandemic.
The Ivorians finished unbeaten and lead the group ahead of Cameroon.
The final round of Qualifiers is scheduled for 19-21 February, 2021.