SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (November 28, 2021) -- The Canadian Senior Men’s National Team opened their quest to qualify for the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 with a dominant 115-73 victory over the Bahamas on Sunday.
In a strong game from Canada from start to finish, all 12 players on the roster scored, with four finishing in double figures as Kyle Wiltjer led the way with a game-high 23 points and Aaron Best added 21 points. Kenny Chery finished with 18 points and Kyle Alexander added a 12-point, 12-rebound double-double, while Phil Scrubb had a game-high 11 assists.
“I thought our team was very well connected today,” Team Canada coach Nate Bjorkgren said. “What an honour to be with this great group of guys that we have and to [get to] represent Canada. It means a lot. We talked about that from day one in our short time together from training camp to Game 1 here today. We’re going to enjoy this one right now and when we leave this table we will go watch the film and look for ways to get better.”
Wiltjer's 23 points came in just 19 minutes of playing time. He made 9-of-13 field goals, including 5-of-9 attempts from beyond the arc.
“For me it's a huge honour to represent Canada and I'm just very blessed and thankful that they called my name to play," Wiltjer said. "For us to get this win in this group against a good team, for us it’s a great start. We’re not going to be complacent [though], there's a lot of things we can improve on. I’m just honoured to be here, I’m excited for the challenge and I’m glad we won.”
Sunday's game also marked the first-time playing for the Senior Men's National Team for some Canada Basketball vets as Chery, Alexander, A.J. Lawson, and Kalif Young each made their Senior Men's National Team debuts. It was also the first time representing Canada internationally for Alexander.
“I thought they were very well connected for their first time with the Senior Men’s National Team," Bjorkgren said. "Everybody was playing hard for each other and shared the ball very nicely, stepped right in and really contributed defensively for us tonight.”
Canada shot 54 percent from the floor in the game, including 40 percent from three. The Canadians finished with 17 three-pointers in the game, including eight in the first quarter alone. In comparison, the Bahamas finished with eight threes for the game. Canada's offence flowed easily throughout the game and the team recorded 31 assists on 42 field goals, while also out-rebounding Bahamas 47-32.
Though the teams traded baskets from long-range early on in the first quarter, Canada quickly pulled away thanks to their three-point shooting. After Anthony Bennett and Chery hit back-to-back threes and then Best connected on a pair of his own, Canada held a 32-20 advantage after the opening quarter.
The hot shooting continued in the second quarter, as the threes kept coming for Canada. With three-pointers from Best and Kassius Robertson, as well as layups for Bennett and Phil Scrubb, Canada held a 43-26 lead when the Bahamas called timeout midway through the quarter.
A pair of free throws from Alexander made it 55-36 Canada with 2:03 remaining in the half. A minute later, it was Chery at the line, making a pair of free throws. Lawson scored his first points in his debut with the team to make it 59-36 before following it up with a block on the other end. A steal from Phil Scrubb and feed to Alexander for a dunk closed the quarter and Canada took a 61-38 lead into the half.
In the third, it was the Wiltjer show as he opened the second half scoring with a three to extend Canada’s lead to 26. He followed that up with a step-back jumper, and then assisted Chery on a three to put Canada ahead by 31.
“Kyle’s been proudly representing Canada for years, but he makes it look like it’s his first," Bjorkgren said. "He plays with passion, leads by example out on the floor with his communication and is just an all-around smart player.”
Canada’s defence was solid to start the second half, holding the Bahamas scoreless until the 6:48 mark of the third. Alexander showed his impact on both ends of the floor as he threw down a huge dunk on one end and then stepped in to take the charge on the other. Wiltjer continued to roll in the third, hitting his fourth and fifth threes as Canada won the quarter 31-13, and took a 92-51 lead into the fourth.
“The players are doing the things that we’re asking them as a coaching staff,” Bjorkgren said. “There was a lot of good communication and talking out there, most importantly, effort. I thought the effort on both ends of the floor was very good. The physicality that we played with was excellent.”
Though the Bahamas scored the first eight points of the fourth, a pair of free throws from Phil Scrubb opened a string of 11 straight points for Canada. With Bjorkgren using his full bench in the fourth, the Canadians easily went on to collect the 115-73 victory.
Up next for Canada is a rematch against the Bahamas on Monday, November 29 at 4 P.M. ET., live on Sportsnet.