Well, that was ugly.
In the end, Canada held on for one of the least impressive victories you can imagine, a 58-55 slopfest that saw the Canadians and their Senegalese opponents combine to shoot 29.9 percent (Box Score). The teams also combined to shoot 11-of-46 on threes and 63 percent at the free-throw line, and it seems very likely that FIBA will now ban both teams from international competition, even if either wins the tournament and qualifies for the Olympics.
Make no mistake, Canada was very lucky to hang on here. Senegal wasn’t nearly the underdog the broadcast made them out to be, and their energy was something the Canadians struggled to match on their second day of a back-to-back. Senegal lacks a certain finesse and consistency of execution in their sets, but it was strange to see Canada, who out-worked Turkey a day earlier, prove thoroughly incapable of keeping Senegal off the glass. Senegal grabbed 18 (!) offensive rebounds (including eight in the game’s first eight minutes), and had those second chances not produced a poor mark from outside, they may very well have done the Canadians in and left their path to the Olympics up to point differential.
This was on display a great deal down the stretch as Senegal slowly trimmed what was a steady five-point lead down to one. After Canada missed multiple looks around the paint, Maleya Ndoye hit a huge three. Cory Joseph tried to settle things with a blow-by for two, but a brutal Anthony Bennett turnover in space produced a Maurice Ndour three the other way. The next time down, Ndour pump-faked, stepped in, and kicked to an open shooter, who missed the cleanest of looks with 17 seconds left.
Ndour was terrific, by the way, taking up the mantle of the team’s primary weapon with Gorgui Dieng absent. He finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds, and the undrafted Ohio product would have had the ball in his hands with the game on the line had he not fouled out in the closing minutes. Someone should give this guy a look for training camp.
From there, Joseph was tasked with sealing things at the stripe. He went 3-of-4, giving Senegal a chance to tie, down three, with three seconds to play. Senegal couldn’t get rim on a broken look, and Canada escaped with a win and a 2-0 record. They…should not feel good about how they got there, but they’ve now won their pool and earned the right to play the second-seed from the opposing pool in the semfinal on Saturday. That likely means Canada avoids France until Sunday’s tournament final.
if they play like this, Boris Diaw is going to drop 30-20-10 with a glass of red in his hand the whole time.
— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) July 6, 2016
That’s not to say there’s nothing to be drawn from the win. For the second game in a row, the Canadians defended the initial attack well, and they were better at getting back in transition than a day earlier. They struggled finishing against Senegal’s length inside and a lack of shooting up and down the roster continues to cramp spacing – has anyone seen Brady Heslip’s jumper? – but the team’s guard play remains a strength. Cory Joseph was solid once again with 13 points (albeit on 4-of-12 shooting), and his two assists speak more to teammates missing decent looks he helped produce. Tyler Ennis was good early and managed 12 points, too, though he and Phil Scrubb have to finish better and be more decisive floating or attacking.
The team’s forwards, supposedly a strength, uncharacteristically struggled – Tristan Thompson, Anthony Bennett, and Melvin Ejim combined for 25 points on 11-of-30 shooting. Individually, their rebounding numbers pop, but Canda doesn’t have much excuse for losing the rebounding battle against most anyone in this tournament.
Canada has some things to figure out over the next two days, as expected. Head coach Jay Triano is still tinkering with rotations to find the right mix, and if France beckons, he may need to tighten things up. Even in the semis against host Philippines or New Zealand, Triano will be tasked with trying to find quick chemistry, a challenge of any short tournament.
For now, Canada’s done what they need to, impressive one day and shaky the next. They’re where they need to be, and they need to get a little better. There’s no room for error or a bad game this weekend.