Canada didn’t make it easy on themselves but they’ve earned another do-or-die shot to make the 2016 Rio Olympics with a 78-72 win over New Zealand.
Scratching and clawing, the Canadians cleaned up on tough baskets around the rim to score 44 points in the paint to 28 for New Zealand.
Up just three points with less than a minute left, Canada’s Melvin Ejim stole the ball with tough defence on New Zealand’s best player Corey Webster. Then when teammate Cory Joseph’s shot missed Ejim cleaned up the offensive rebound and got the basket plus the foul to seal the game.
“He’s our energy guy,” said head coach Jay Triano. “We feel comfortable going to him in the fourth quarter.”
Ejim has been getting it done on both ends for Canada and could be auditioning for another NBA job after summer league stints with Philadelphia and Orlando the past two years didn’t lead to a contract.
“We keep talking about how we have to be so good defensively because there could be a game where you don’t make shots, well we’ve had three games where we haven’t made shots,” Triano said.
“We keep defending, forcing tough shots, keep forcing teams to shoot a low percentage and that gives us a chance until we’re going to start making shots.”
Shooting was a definite issue for the Canadian side who made a brutal 14/25 free throws, and again struggled from beyond the arc going 4/20 where they’ve shot just 26% this tournament. They missed their final 13 attempts from three point range.
New Zealand was led by 21 points from Corey Webster. Centre Isaac Fotu strained a calf midway through the game and did not return.
Cory Joseph carried Canada with 23 points and Tristan Thompson anchored the team down low with an efficient 13 point, 10 rebound double-double.
“We travelled this far,” said Thompson after the game. “I’m glad I was able to join and to be a part of this. We have one more game. Coach wanted to break this tournament down into four quarters, well we’re in the fourth quarter and we’ve come this far and put ourselves in a position to win.”
Cory Joseph has been especially key for Canada, providing a spark of leadership and leading the team in scoring every game so far averaging 18 points with 4.3 rebounds and 3.7 assists.
France (5th) and Turkey (8th) are both ranked far ahead of Canada’s 26th place in the FIBA standings and either will present a stiff challenge in the Finals.
Canada already topped Turkey once in the tournament opener but they’ve come on strong as the games progressed. France features a trio of NBA players in Tony Parker, Nic Batum and Boris Diaw and would be the favourite.
It’s all shaping up to be a great sports day starting with what’s been dubbed Breakfast in Canada with Canada playing for an Olympic basketball berth at 9am, and Milos Raonic playing in the Wimbledon final starting at 8am, and the Euro Cup final kicking off in the afternoon.
Canada’s worked hard to get back in this position after missing their shot last summer, now