By Joan Nnenna Iwuchukwu
Nigeria Customs were on Sunday night, crowned Champions of the 2022 Mark D Ball Men’s Basketball Tournament, after inflicting a 61-55 defeat, on new Abuja franchaise Mo Heat, in the final of the Elite 8 tournament, played at the Indoor Sports Hall, located in Package B, of the MKO Abiola National Stadium, Abuja.
D’Tigers player, Ibe Agu who captained Customs contributed 17 points, 2 fewer than his team mate Michael Daramola, whose 19 points was matched by Mo Heat’s top scorer, Bright Akhuetie, while Owen Michael could only manage 13 points, for the Mo Heat, who literarily lost their way in the last quarter.
Going into the finalé watched by a capacity crowd and graced by eminent personalities, including a representative of the minister of youth and Sports Development, Abba Yola,a former Senator respresenting Kogi West Senitoral district,Dino Melaye and Directors of Sports from the FCT, Plateau, Niger and Benue.
Mo Heats were unbeaten, and favourites to take the title, having already beaten the Customs side, in the build of to the final.
The first quarter being nervous one , ended 15-15, with both teams fighting hard in the second quarter and even at the end of the 3rd quarter, it was still a tight game at 47 baskets, apiece.
Nigeria Customs started the last quarter with more zeal and purpose, pulled away, and eventually were able to hold off a late challenge mounted by Mo Heats to win the final by 6 clear points.
Victory ensured that they emulated their ladies folks, who also won the women’s tournament, played towards the end of 2021.
On the other hand, defeat for Mo Heat, was their very first and only defeat in the 32-team tournament.
Kanyinsola Odufuwa top scored with 25, while Wisedom Anyaoha had 17 dunks as Gombe Bulls won the 3rd Place game that preceded the final, by again beating Kano Pillars, 67-62 to take the bronze medal, and N1 million, as prize money.
The Bulls had also prevailed 63-57 against the Sai Masu Gida, when both sides met earlier, in the final 8; and their undoing was over relying on veteran captain, Abubakar Usman, whose 14 points and 2 assists, fell short of unsettling the Bulls from Gombe, who triumphed despite not having their Head Coach, on the bench.
The Winners, Nigeria Customs got a N2 million cheque, as Prize Money, while the losing finalist, Mo Heat took home N1.5 million.
Meanwhile, Senator Dino Melaye donated N300,000 for the winners and N200,000 for the beaten finalits of Mark D Ball, rated the championships as “top notch”, and the best basketball competition, in Sub Sahara Africa.
The other four teams that contested for honours in the final-8 are HotCoal Ballers of Abuja, FCT HardRockers, Kwara Falcons of Ilorin and Delta Force of Asaba.