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Canada basketball
Holly MacKenzie

Barrett, Gilgeous-Alexander lead in OT thriller as Canada defeats Spain 85-80

GRANADA, Spain (August 17, 2023) – The Canadian Senior Men’s National Team outlasted Spain 85-80 in OT to earn their second consecutive overtime victory and move to 3-1 in exhibition play in advance of the 2023 FIBA Men’s Basketball World Cup.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led all scorers with a game-high 22 points to go with eight rebounds and three assists in 33 minutes. Dwight Powell added a 12-point, 12-rebound double-double and Kelly Olynyk added 11 points, six assists, five rebounds and three blocked shots.

RJ Barrett had 18 points on 6-for-11 shooting, including 2-of-4 from beyond-the-arc as he picked up where he left off in Sunday’s 13-for-14 shooting performance in Canada’s OT victory over Germany to claim the DBB SuperCup.

“It was good,” Barrett said. “They’re a really well-coached team. They played extremely hard. It was a good test for us. Another great team win. They’re [ranked] No. 1 in the world for a reason. It felt good to come in here and get a win.”

Canada opened overtime on a 7-0 run as Barrett opened with a lob to Powell for a dunk and then Dillon Brooks drilled a three-pointer. After Kelly Olynyk blocked a shot, Barrett was credited with a steal and thunderous slam in transition to put Canada ahead 80-73 with 3:15 remaining. Spain didn’t score its first points in overtime until a layup inside from Garuba with 2:22 remaining.

A three from Victor Claver would trim Canada’s advantage to two points, but Spain wouldn’t get any closer as Barrett responded with a jumper and then a pair of free throws to keep the lead at four points with under a minute remaining.

“So far, he’s made my life so easy,” Team Canada Head Coach Jordi Fernández said of Barrett. “I don't have to call much for him. Here and there I do give him a play, but he just finds everything within the offence and that’s extremely valuable. I’m very happy with RJ and his performance so far.”

Spain was led by Juancho Hernangomez’s 12 points, while Usman Garuba added 10 points and eight rebounds in the loss.

Canada shot 48 per cent in the game compared to Spain’s 40 per cent shooting. The Canadians attacked the rim throughout the game and were rewarded with 21 free throw attempts, making 15, compared to Spain who made just 6-of-9 attempts.

This was the first meeting between the two teams, including official and exhibition meetings, since 2014 when they played a game in Seville, Spain. It was also the first Canadian victory against Spain in four exhibition matches since 2000.

Whenever Canada needed him, Barrett was there. From scoring down the stretch in overtime, to opening the game with a three-pointer to help Canada get off to a strong start and build a nine-point lead midway through the quarter, Barrett was there.

After Spain cut into Canada’s lead to close the quarter, Nickeil Alexander-Walker connected on a three to beat the end-of-quarter buzzer and give Canada a six point advantage, 27-21, after the opening 10 minutes.

Spain found its groove in the second quarter. Rudy Fernandez opened the quarter with a three to trim Canada’s lead in half. After back-to-back buckets for Hernangomez, Spain led by five with under a minute remaining in the half. After Powell hit one of two free throws, Spain took a 44-40 lead into the break.

Like the previous two games, Canada came out in the third with a renewed focus on the defensive end. Olynyk found Brooks inside for an easy lay-in to open the second half. A full-court press by the Canadians after a pair of free throws for Barrett worked to slow Spain’s offence. A block from Olynyk and scrambling defence helped force Spain into a shot-clock violation.

“I think it was the commitment to being active and getting deflections,” Fernández said of the third quarter. “We had seven [deflections] in the first half and 20 in the second. Defensively, they scored 14 second chance points in the first half and only three in the second. We were just focused and locked in and we got enough stops.”

A three from Olynyk brought Canada within three points. After a deflection from Powell, Gilgeous-Alexander was fouled on a drive to the basket and made one of two free throws. Next, it was Olynyk with the defensive deflection and then Powell with a three-point play to put Canada back in front, 51-50 with 4:37 remaining in the third. 

The veteran duo were huge for Canada in the victory.

“[We value] their leadership,” Fernández said. “They know how to play these games with a lot of pressure. Just like you saw today, they kept their composure, they kept everybody together and it’s extremely important that we have them.”

Canada went into the fourth trailing 57-56. 

The final quarter was a battle from start to finish as the team’s traded baskets and stops until a pair of buckets from Olynyk tied at 71 points with 2:24 remaining. 

Hernangomez put Spain on front 73-71 until Gilgeous-Alexander hit a jumper to tie things at 73 points with 1:23 remaining, setting up the overtime session where Canada pulled away for the victory.

“Closing games is important,” Fernández said. “Especially for us because we’re young, we’re inexperienced. We’ve played on the road with good crowds, but at the end of the day, this is just what it is, these are not World Cup games, these are just preparation games and we have to, in our minds, keep getting better.”

Canada entered Thursday’s game against No. 1 ranked Spain as the 15th ranked team in the FIBA World Ranking Presented by NIKE. After defeating 11th-ranked Germany on Sunday, they will face the Dominican Republic (ranked 23rd) on Friday at 3:30 p.m. ET / 12:30 p.m. ET in their final tune up in advance of next week’s World Cup.

The game will be free to watch for fans in Canada via Courtside 1891 — FIBA’s live streaming digital platform — by registering for a free ‘Plus’ account.