Photo: FIBA
Photo: FIBA

Canada earns first win at final Olympic basketball qualifier

Canada’s men’s basketball team inched closer to a Rio 2016 berth on Tuesday.

On the strength of 21 points and five assists from Toronto Raptors guard Cory Joseph, Canada opened the last chance Olympic qualifying tournament with a 77-69 victory over Turkey in Manila, Philippines.

Tristan Thompson and Philip Scrubb each added 10 points in the win. Meanwhile, Turkey struggled offensively the entire game, shooting just 6/26 from beyond the arc and only hitting 56% of their free throws.

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Canada pulled ahead 10-5 in the opening quarter only to have Turkey go on a 7-0 run to take the lead. The Canadians were able to pull ahead late in the frame thanks to three balls from Brady Heslip and Philip Scrubb, giving the team a 21-17 advantage.

The chemistry of the Canadian squad improved as the game moved along. That was apparent in the second quarter with a couple of nice dunks and ally-oops, including a late one from Thompson to make it 38-29. Both teams added late points to give Canada a 39-30 advantage at the end of the first half.

Canada's Melvin Ejim completes a dunk against Turkey at the last chance Olympic basketball qualifier in Manila on July 5, 2016. (Photo: FIBA)

Canada’s Melvin Ejim completes a dunk against Turkey at the last chance Olympic basketball qualifier in Manila on July 5, 2016. (Photo: FIBA)

Thompson continued to excite the Mall of Asia Arena crowd early in the third quarter, completing another nice alley-oop to give Canada a 12-point lead. While it looked like Canada might start to pull away, Turkey continued to keep it close. In the final minute, Joseph made a couple of jump shots to give him 12 points in the quarter and Canada a 59-47 lead.

Although the game remained close throughout the fourth, Turkey’s cold shooting continued. With 41 seconds left, two free throws from Anthony Bennett put Canada up by nine and secured the victory.

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Canada continues group play tomorrow with a match against Senegal (at 6:25 a.m. ET on TSN4).

Canada missed out on qualifying for Rio back in September, which forced the team into this week’s last chance qualifier. The team is playing in Group A with Turkey and Senegal. The other group features France, New Zealand and the Philippines. The top two teams from each group advance to Saturday’s semifinals. The final will take place on Sunday with the winner earning an Olympic spot.

The last trip to the Olympic Games for a Canadian men’s basketball team came in Sydney 2000.

Canada’s women’s basketball team qualified for the Olympic Games last August on home court in Edmonton by winning their FIBA Americas tournament.