RECIFE, Brazil (Sept. 11, 2022) - The Canadian Senior Men’s National Team fell to the United States in an 84-80 thriller on Sunday in the third-place game at the FIBA AmeriCup 2022 in Brazil.
Holding a slim lead for much of the fourth quarter, the Canadians were unable to score in the closing minutes when it was needed most. After a bucket from Zylan Cheatham gave the U.S. their first lead of the fourth, a layup for Abu Kigab tied the game at 73 all with 2:12 remaining. From there, the U.S reeled off a 9-0 run to take an 82-73 lead and Canada didn’t score another point until free throws from Jahvon Henry-Blair brought Canada within seven with 15 seconds remaining. A steal from Dalano Banton resulted in free throws for Kadre Gray to make it a five-point game, but with just four seconds remaining, Canada ran out of time to try to complete a comeback.
“This was a great experience for us,” Team Canada head coach Nate Mitchell said. “We continue to grow and I think that continuity that we try to build throughout all of our programs will help our country get better.”
No other team had as many close games as Canada in the tournament en route to their fourth-place finish. Though the roster was relatively new to one another, the team came together with a common goal in mind.
“It’s amazing what our country is doing, especially with our young players,” Mitchell said. “I think a lot of credit goes to our federation, Rowan Barrett, Michael Bartlett and Michael Meeks, finding these players and making sure they’re available to play for our country. With Nick Nurse setting a foundation for our whole country and how we want to play, offensively and defensively, having a “one team, one goal” mindset.”
Though the result on Sunday was not the one they had hoped for, the improvement and growth of the young Canadian team through the course of the tournament was impressive to everyone, including U.S. head coach Alex Jansen.
“I mean this, a lot of credit to Canada and Nate and their staff.” Jansen said following the U.S. victory. “We played them in a practice game when we first got down here [in Brazil] and the improvement that they've had as a team is pretty remarkable.”
Gary Clark led the U.S. in the win with 18 points while Cheatham added 16 points in the win. Kigab led Canada with 18 points while Gray added 15 points and seven assists and Henry-Blair added 15 points.
“I knew a couple of guys coming in but for the most part, we were all brand new,” Kigab said. “I thought the coaching staff did a great job of helping us jell together in a short amount of time. Our success so far is just a testament to them. I’m very appreciative to have those types of people in my corner and I'm very happy about that.”
After a close first quarter, Canada held a narrow one-point lead after the opening 10 minutes. They had a strong defensive showing in the second quarter, holding the United States to just 14 points. Kigab had a personal 6-0 run to help Canada build an eight-point lead with 1:58 remaining in the half.
A pull-up jumper from Norris Cole and then a layup for Craig Sword forced Canada to call a timeout with 45 seconds remaining in the half and their lead trimmed to three. Kigab continued his strong half with a layup out of the timeout and then Canada made the most of the final seconds in the quarter as Gray drove to the rim and scored before the buzzer sounded to take a 36-29 lead at the half.
Canada led by eight in the third before the U.S. used a 14-2 run to go in front by four, 48-44 with 3:08 remaining in the quarter. A free throw from Thomas Kennedy and then a floater from Kigab brought Canada back within a point. A minute later, Gray sank a pull-up jumper to put Canada back in front by one. After a late dunk from Cheatham brought the U.S. within three, Canada took a 57-54 lead heading into the fourth.
Though they fell to a more experienced U.S. team, Canada leaves Brazil with in-game experience that cannot be taught.
“I felt like our team grew every game, especially from game one,” Mitchell said. “We finally got together, here in Brazil where we got to practice, we had two practices before we got to play Brazil. All of these games were situational play and lineup changes. I started different lineups throughout the tournament, some guys played, some guys didn’t. For us, I thought we did what we needed to do to try to compete within these games.”