Image courtesy of FIBA
The Junior Men’s National Team (JMNT) played in an instant-classic and earned a thrilling 110-100 triple overtime victory over China at the 11th FIBA U19 World Championship for Men. Prior to 2007, the tournament was held once every four years; it is now played once every two years. With today’s victory, the 2013 edition of the team is guaranteed to at least tie the highest-ever finish for Canada in the competition – a sixth-place mark from 1987 in Bormio, Italy.
Both teams came out of their locker rooms focused and determined, and it showed on the court. A big hold by Team China was matched with a solid defensive stop by the Canadians. A difficult finish around the basket by the Red and White was met with a smooth three-pointer by the Red and Yellow. The back-and-forth action would continue through the first half; Canada’s opening-quarter lead of 18-15 was equalled by the 20-minute mark at 32 points-a-piece.
Strong play in the third quarter by the Chinese side was nullified with an equally impressive effort by the Canadians in the fourth. For just the third time in this year’s tournament, a game would require extra time as Team Canada and China finished regulation knotted at 78-78. As they had done all game, the teams continued their equal play by trading offensive opportunities and defensive plays. A basket from Brampton, Ont. native Tyler Ennis with under a minute to go put Canada ahead 85-83, but mere moments later, China’s Shuai Yuan equalled the score to send the game to a second extra session.
Ennis and Yuan, the point guards and highest scorers for their respective teams, went head-to-head in double overtime to try and win the game for their countries. With just over a minute to play, a pair of free throws by Yuan tied the game at 91. A made-basket by Scarborough, Ont. product Xavier Rathan-Mayes, followed by an Ennis free throw gave Canada a three-point lead with 14 seconds remaining. China’s Shang Gao answered with a long three-pointer with just two seconds to spare to once again tie the game.
Playing with a wealth of heart and courage, the JMNT raced out to a quick four-point lead – the largest advantage by either team since midway through the fourth quarter – only to have Team China storm back to knot the game at 98. That tie however, would be the last stalemate of the match. A timely Marko Pirovic three-pointer broke the game open and Canada finished on a 12-2 run on the strength of superb play from the backcourt duo of Ennis and Rathan-Mayes.
Ennis led the Red and White with 42 points on the day to go with eight rebounds and four assists. With today’s totals, Ennis now tops the competition’s list of highest scorers with an average of 22.6. Rathan-Mayes finished with 15 points, while Chris Egi managed 14, Pirovic tallied 12 and Denzell Taylor ended with 11. Each of Canada’s double-digit scorers fell just shy of a double-double with Rathan-Mayes grabbing a team-high nine rebounds, while the others all corralled eight. Kaza Keane led Team Canada with seven assists while tying Ennis for the game-high in steals with three. The match’s full set of statistics can be viewed here.
When asked about his team’s play, head coach Rana spoke to the character of the team and looked ahead to Canada’s next match. “In one of the craziest international games that I have been a part of, we got a very special performance from Tyler Ennis. Our guys showed incredible mental toughness being down two players and beating a very good Chinese team to secure a fifth or sixth place finish. We're not stopping yet. We're getting ready for tomorrow and hopefully we can come out with another win."
Ennis credited those around him when asked about his performance. “Coach gave me the green light near the end of the game. He said to go out there and score. He gave me a lot of pick-and-rolls with our big men. I just wanted go out there and make good plays - to not only score, but also involve my teammates.”
“It is a great time to be a part of Canada Basketball with our players and teams being recognized. The chance to be here in Prague and place higher than any other junior national team is great – especially with the history of guys who have played on this team like Anthony (Bennett), Tristan (Thompson), Cory (Joseph) and everyone else. It's good to be recognized as one of Canada's top junior teams,” Ennis added, when asked about tomorrow’s game.
The JMNT will face Spain for fifth-place in the tournament. A time has yet to be confirmed. Canada has a chance to better the sixth-place finish by the 1987 Junior Team for the best standing by a Canadian squad in this competition.