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VICTORIA, British Columbia (June 29, 2021) — The Canadian Senior Men’s National Team opened play at the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Victoria, B.C. with a 97-91 victory over Greece on Tuesday. 

Canada was led by a 23-point effort from Andrew Wiggins and 22 points from RJ Barrett as the team weathered a hot-shooting first half from Greece and took control in the third quarter. Konstantinos Mitoglou led Greece with 14 points in the loss.

“I think like any team, it was tough at the beginning,” Barrett said. “[It was our] first time really playing against somebody new. [Greece] did a great job, they definitely are a well-oiled machine, they know how to run their stuff and they took it to us. Coach [Nurse] and the staff made a great adjustment and we were able to really play together and grind out a win.”

Part of that adjustment was Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Luguentz Dort logging significant time off the bench as each made their Senior Men’s National Team debut. While Dort’s defensive intensity and physicality helped turn the game in the second half, Alexander-Walker scored 18 points, including 14 in the second quarter to help keep Canada afloat despite a three-point barrage from Greece. 

“He kind of came into camp with an ultra-aggressive mindset, so he played a lot like that in our scrimmages and intra-squad work and practice time,” Nurse said of Alexander Walker. “That’s him. He came with that and I just wanted to encourage him to keep doing it. He really was a big spark for us. It really was part of us being able to hang in there in the first half.”

Greece led for much of the first half and held a 50-46 lead at the break after connecting on 8-of-18 attempts from beyond the arc. Things turned in the third quarter as Canada settled into rhythm and upped the defensive intensity.

“That’s really what [Dort] does all game long,” Barrett said. “Every time he comes in he brings energy, he plays defence, he’s running in transition, he’s moving the ball. He’s definitely a key guy for us and a guy you can always count on.”

In addition to the physicality he provides, Dort’s versatility was huge for Canada.

“He can guard a lot of positions and he puts in a tremendous competitive spirit which transcends to the rest of our players,” Nurse said.

Canada outscored Greece 28-21 in the third quarter to take a 74-71 lead into the fourth quarter. Whenever the team needed a basket, it seemed that Barrett or Wiggins was there to provide one.

“They did a great job,” Nurse said. “I thought there was some good organization there, in getting those shots up, in getting the spacing right, in getting RJ and Wiggs involved. [It was] pretty good for the first game. It’s definitely nice having two guys that can score like that.”

A three-pointer from Mychal Mulder to open the fourth gave Canada a six-point lead and then Barrett went to work. The 21-year-old scored 12 of his 22 points in the final quarter to keep Canada in control. When a three from Charis Giannopoulos got Greece within four with a minute remaining, Barrett drilled a pair of free throws with 34 seconds on the clock to extend Canada’s lead to six.

“We did a good job of just figuring it out,” Barrett said. “Sometimes in basketball that’s how it goes. You can drop all the game plans, everything you want, but you’ve got to go out, feel the game out and just grind out the win any way you can.”

After taking the lead at the end of the third quarter, Canada never trailed in the fourth. 

“We just had to keep playing,” Nurse said. “Hang in there, keep playing, learn. Play a little harder, play a little more together. It’s good. I’m glad of the way they bounced back through it. It should help us again as part of our learning experience.”

With one game down, Canada will play again on Wednesday as they face China at 7:05 p.m. ET (4:05 p.m. PT). Canadians can catch all of the action streaming live on CBC Gem, as well as online on DAZN.

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