The upstart Canadians are in the finals!
The Canadian Road Warriors stayed unbeaten in the 2016 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Manila, Philippines, after fending off the New Zealand Tall Blacks, 78-72, to be one step closer to that coveted Rio Olympic games slot, Saturday evening.
Cory Joseph led the way for the Canadians with 20 points on 8-for-19 shooting from the field. Tristan Thompson was a rock on the paint, notching a double-double with 13 markers and ten boards, while Melvin Ejim added 12 points, seven rebounds, and two blocks
Both teams displayed fast-paced offense in the game’s curtain-raiser, with full-court transition sets and fluid motion schemes. The Tall Blacks went up 11-7 after a Tai Webster triple, but the Canadians caught up quickly and grabbed the lead, 19-18, after knocking down their shots from the perimeter. However, Canada failed to sustain momentum as New Zealand, behind the exploits of Corey Webster and Ili, wrapped up the quarter with a slim lead, 25-23.
New Zealand widened the gap to seven, 30-23, early in the second frame, but Canada scored eight straight points via Khem Birch, Philip Scrubb, and Anthony Bennett to go ahead, 31-30. The Tall Blacks lost their touch offensively and collapsed defensively, allowing Canada to go up 39-33 with less than four minutes left. However, C. Webster shouldered the burden with his impeccable shooting from sixteen feet out, leading a 9-3 run to close the first half in a 42-all deadlock.
In the third canto, Canada maximized their inside game via continuous attacks to the rim and off-ball basket cuts, while New Zealand played catch-up ball all throughout. From a one-point, 45-44 lead, the Road Warriors increased their lead to six, 55-49, with contributions from Birch, Corey Joseph, and Tristan Thompson late in the quarter. The FIBA-Oceania squad, again behind C. Webster’s shooting, managed to chip in a few more points, but it wasn’t enough, as they still trailed by four, 58-54, to end the third.
The Tall Blacks regained their composure in the final ten minutes of the game, gradually converting their four-point deficit to their advantage, 66-64, after Thomas Abercrombie, the Webster brothers, and Mika Vukona joined forces. That proved to be their last hurrah, as the Canadians’ height and athleticism allowed them to withstand the wily New Zealand. With Thompson, Joseph, Melvin Emji leading the way, the Road Warriors closed out the Tall Blacks by six, 78-72.
New Zealand were led by Corey Webster with 21 markers, while Abercrombie and his brother, Tai, scored 16 and 15, respectively.
The team from the Pacific dished the ball 18 times compared to Canada’s 12, but their North American counterparts won the battle on the boards, 47-42. The Canadians also scored more points in the paint, 44-28.
Canada will now wait for the winner of the France-Turkey match to complete the Finals picture.
Canada (72) – Joseph 20, Thompson 13, Ejim 13, Bennett 9, Birch 6, Scrubb 5, Ennis 4, Heslip 2.
New Zealand (78) – Webster C. 21, Abercrombie 16, Webster T. 15, Vukona 6, Loe 6, Ili 5, Fotu 3, Ngatai 0, Bartlett 0.
Quarterscores: 25-23, 42-42, 58-54, 78-72.