canada basketball

Canada tops Bahamas in 1st senior men’s home game since 1994

Canada 93, Bahamas 69 | Box Score

Canada has been waiting over two decades to host a senior men’s basketball game with stakes. Both the fanbase and the roster played accordingly on Friday, with Canada blowing out Bahamas 93-69 in front of a raucous crowd of over 7,000 in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Even in a lopsided affair, Canada kept the plot in trying to set a playing style and create an identity for the qualifiers to come over the next two years, and those in attendance made a fine case for more international competition making its way back outside of just the three World Cup qualifying games.

It didn’t take long for Roy Rana to establish how Canada wants to play in these qualifiers. He opted to start three guards in Phil Scrubb, Xavier Rathan-Mayes, and Brady Heslip, opted for a stretchy four in Anthony Bennett, and gave Joel Anthony the nod rather than downsizing too much. The reasoning showed itself quickly, with Canada’s ability to space out the Bahamas defense leading to ample offensive rebounding opportunities for the bigs. Heslip hit a pair of early threes, Rathan-Mayes had plenty of room to work his in-between game, and short of Heslip losing his man on a cut, there wasn’t a huge defensive trade-off for going small against an opponent heavy on shooting at the expense of size.

If there was any cause for concern, it was when the rim proved friendly on a flailing Shaquille Cleare shot at the end of a shot clock. Owen Klassen was caught napping shortly after, leading to a Jaraun Burrows alley-oop, but the Acadia product was able to respond by getting to the free-throw line from beating the defense over the top in transition. The bench offense stalled out a bit for Canada otherwise, the team relying instead on their defensive activity level picking up at half-court and forcing five Bahamas turnovers in the quarter. Grandy Glaze, who impressed at FIBA AmeriCup this summer and is representing St. John’s of the NBL here, closed out the frame with a quick finish inside, pushing the home side’s lead to 21-11, Rana having already gone 11 deep in the rotation.

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Rana went back to several fresh starters in the second looking to extend the lead, and Heslip got back to doing his part from outside. A 9-0 run could have been larger if Anthony still had a little more bounce in those legs. No matter, as Bahamas finally breaking their five-minute scoreless streak saw Heslip answer with another triple. And then another. Heslip would finish the half 5-of-8 from beyond the arc, Bahamas coughed up six more turnovers in the quarter (while shooting 29 percent), and Canada entered the break with a comfortable 28-point lead.

Rolling 12-deep and tasking only Scrubb with playing more than 14 first-half minutes, they were in good shape to keep their foot on the gas in the second, a not insignificant consideration in the event point differential ends up mattering. It won’t if Canada keeps playing like they did here, quickly extending the lead to 30 and never really taking their foot off the gas on defense. Scrubb continued his nice two-way play as the team’s floor general, Heslip turned the pressure along the arc against the defense to free himself for mid-range looks or trips to the line, and Rathan-Mayes looked good attacking as a secondary ball-handling option. Bahamas held even around the 30-point mark for most of the quarter, cleaning up their turnover issue and playing their best offensive quarter so far. They even hit their first three of the game, only for Heslip to answer with a seventh of his own, keeping the lead at a comfortable 28 entering the fourth.

Bennett set a nice tone in the fourth, throwing down a two-handed dunk and then blocking a shot, not that there was much concern of slippage at this point. It was fairly clear that Rana was trying to make sure there were no mental lapses or any stretches of inattention, because Canada knows their margin for error will be slim at times during the qualification period, and the program is well aware of how small-sample disappointments can rear their heads. Making that message land and fostering a commitment to detail every possession is important, even with long breaks between qualifying sessions. Still, score effects exist, as does variance, and Bahamas flirted with the 20-point mark until Thomas Scrubb sent them into a timeout with a triple that probably killed any remaining hope of an unlikely comeback.

It was a fairly rote close-out from there. Rana got some of the bench pieces a little more run, with all 12 players eventually playing at least seven minutes and scoring, nobody playing more than 27, and the team finishing with a nice 46.9/37.9/71.0 shooting line. Bahamas would finish shooting 45 percent overall, sunk by a 2-of-16 mark from long-range and 16 turnovers. Heslip led the way with 22 points (and six threes), both Scrubbs made strong impacts at both ends (combining for 29 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists), and Rathan-Mayes continues to look like a legitimate piece the program can pencil in moving forward if he doesn’t get an NBA call-up.

Canada will now head to the Dominican Republic for a game there Monday. The Dominican Republic defeated the U.S. Virgin Islands by 10 earlier tonight, so a win for Canada on their court would give them a nice edge atop the pool before teams break until February. This is as good a start as Canada could have hoped for.

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