The Senior Men’s National Team defeated the Dominican Republic 85-79 on the road in front of a passionate home crowd in the Dominican Republic on Saturday. The victory moves Canada to 3-0 in group play and leaves Canada as the lone undefeated team in Group C at the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 Qualifiers.
“It was a great basketball atmosphere,” Team Canada coach Nate Bjorkgren said. “The home crowd was great, very knowledgeable, and very supportive of their team. They’re very well coached, their players play extremely hard, so the atmosphere was tremendous. Our guys really enjoyed playing in this atmosphere as well.
“The Canadians had a balanced scoring effort on Saturday, with four players finishing in double figures, and two more finishing with nine points apiece. Kyle Wiltjer led the way with 15 points, while Phil Scrubb added 14 points, Kaza Kajami-Keane added 13 points and Kassius Robertson added 10. Trae Bell-Haynes and Thomas Scrubb added nine points each in the victory.
”We talked about it a lot before we got here and I thought our guys did one heck of a job of sticking together through all of the ups and downs of the game,” Bjorkgren said. “They really came out fighting, every dead ball. I liked our team’s composure tonight.”
Though Canada led for all but 16 seconds of the game, the Dominican Republic continued to push until the final seconds, making Canada work for the victory. Every time that the Dominican Republic cut into Canada’s lead, the Canadians remained calm and rebuilt it
“We said we wanted to make sure we stayed composed in an arena like this,” Kajami-Keane said. “The fans were pretty loud and they understood the game. We wanted to stay consistent, just kind of lay, brick-by-brick, every possession.”
Canada led by 11 after a three-pointer from Wiltjer with 6:21 remaining in the game, but went scoreless for more than three minutes as the Dominican Republic trimmed the deficit to just six, before a layup from Wiltjer and then a layup from Bell-Haynes with 2:24 remaining put Canada back in front by 10 points. The Dominican Republic wouldn’t get any closer than six points the rest of the way.
“When they went on a run, [we] maintain[ed] our composure and then got back,” Kajami-Keane said. “I think we maintained that for 40 minutes and it helped us out. We moved forward.”
Aaron Best (Courtesy FIBA/Canada Basketball)
Canada opened the game on a 10-0 run, but led by just two points after the opening quarter, 22-20. Three-point shooting helped the team build its lead back in the second quarter as the Canadians connected on four threes in the second quarter, compared to just one make from deep for the Dominican Republic. With Canada’s lead down to two, Aaron Best drilled a three with two minutes remaining in the half. Canada also closed the half on a three from Kajami-Keane to go into the halftime break ahead by six.
The third quarter went to Canada, 22-20, and the Canadians went into the fourth leading 64-56, despite a sizable advantage at the line for the Dominican Republic. Canada finished the game shooting 14-for-16 the line compared to the Dominican Republic who attempted 44 free throws, but struggled to make them, connecting on just 24 attempts.
“Kaza, sitting next to me here, to my left, I’m asking him to bring the ball down the court …and there’s a lot of hits going on out there and we talked about it before the game, that we wanted to play through the hits,” Bjorkgren said after the game. “It was very physical out there, they did shoot a lot of free throws, but I really enjoyed the physicality of that game. It showed a lot of our depth. There’s a number of guys on this team that can play. We’re very deep at multiple positions and the credit is to the players on that.”
Canada shot 53 percent in the win while holding the Dominican Republic to 43 percent shooting. The Canadians also owned the paint, outscoring the Dominican Republic 44-28 inside.
Team Canada learned shortly before the game that they would be without guard Kenny Chery, who led the team in scoring in the previous WCQ window in November, due to health and safety protocols.
“That speaks to the depth of this team and just the overall readiness,” Bjorkgren said. “This week we’ve been playing guys at different positions a number of times at practice. You have to be prepared.
“Kenny is such a great competitor, such a great player, and even better person,” Bjorkgren continued. “We really missed him out there. He plays with a tremendous amount of energy, but again, there’s guys missing, there’s guys that will be in foul trouble and our team, our players continue to find a way to stick together.”
Up next for Canada is a game against the U.S. Virgin Islands on Sunday at 2 p.m. ET.
Courtesy Canada Basketball