Canada posted a slim 58-55 victory over Senegal to become the first team to reach the semifinals of FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City on Wednesday.
Guard Corey Joseph, shook off a lethargic start and performed big in the crucial stretch finishing with 13 points and five rebounds. Playmaker Tyler Ennis contributed 12 points and three assists while Melvin Ejim had 11 points and eight rebounds for Canada.
“I think it was a great game if you love defense,” Canada coach Howard James Triano told reporters during the postgame news conference. “Both teams were very good defensively. I credited Senegal for stopping us on transition and making three-pointers.”
Tristan Thompson contributed seven points and 10 rebounds while Anthony Bennett notched seven points and seven rebounds also for Canada.
Canada had slow start erecting a mere 22-20 lead at the start of the second period. Ennis and 2013 NBA top overall pick Bennett combined their efforts in the second quarter to allow Canada to stretch its lead to 33-26 at halftime.
Ennis, a member of the Milwaukee Bucks in the NBA, had nine points after the first two quarters while Bennett scored seven points to keep Senegal five points behind, 33-28.
Senegal refused to bow down and returned with renewed determination in the second half bringing the score to 33-35, through Cheikh Mbodj’s basket with 7:46 left in the third period.
The Canadians, however, initiated a 7-2 run highlighted by Thompson’s basket resulting in a seven-point lead, 42-35, with only 2:25 remaining in the third frame.
Joseph scored three crucial free throws and one basket to foil Senegal’s fourth quarter charge. Ennis, in the last two-minute mark, scored a lay-up giving Canada a five-point lead, 55-50.
But Senegal’s defense pressured Canada to commit turnovers in the crucial stretch. Ndour also hit a three-pointer to close the gap, 53-55, with only a minute remaining in the game.
Joseph scored two free throws stretching Canada’s lead to 57-53. Clevin Finley Hannah of Senegal responded with a lay-up with five ticks remaining in the match.
Joseph sank one of his two free throws to provide Canada a three-point lead, 58-55, with only three seconds left in the game.
Hannah missed a three-pointer allowing Canada to escape with slim win.
Senegal dominated the rebound department 53-46, but Canada has more accurate shots, 32-28 percent overall in the field.
Maurice Ndour, who led Senegal with 16 points, 10 rebounds and six blocks, thanked the Filipinos for cheering for them during the game.