Australia have finished in 6th place at the 2018 FIBA Under-17 World Cup for men after falling just 4 points short to Turkey in a thrilling contest.
In a rematch of their Group A preliminary encounter, it was once again Turkey who managed to get their noses in front at the business end of the game to earn an 81-77 victory. It was Australia’s third loss of the event by 4 points or less, having lost earlier to Turkey and Canada by 2 points respectively.
For the Crocs, it was once again Luke Jackson who led the way. As Australia’s most efficient and arguably best player of the tournament, the forward poured in 18 points on 8-13 shooting with 8 rebounds to finish the event averaging a double-double of a team-best 13.7 points and 13.7 rebounds. Tamuri Wigness had his most productive offensive game, but alas it was not enough to get their country over the line.
Turkey’s ability to force Australia into turnovers and score in transition ultimately proved the difference between the two sides, but it was a close game throughout, with neither team leading by any more than 8 points.
Wigness opened the scoring with the three-pointer, and as both sides settled it was Australia who led 7-4 after Luke Travers scores on an assist from Wani Swaka Lo Buluk. The latter drained a triple and when Travers scored inside again after Lo Buluk had come up with steal, the Crocs had opened up an 8 point lead. Yet it was short-lived, as Turkey fought back with a 9-0 run to close out the period and momentarily take the lead. Wigness scored at the buzzer, ensuring his country was in front at the first break.
Jackson scored early on and then linked with Hunter Clarke who made both at the charity stripe as the Crocs threatened again. But consecutive long-range bombs from Turkey either side of a Joel Capetola offensive foul changed had the lead change hands again. Lo Buluk converted a three-point play on a strong drive to the rim, which was followed soon after by a Wigness trey. Clarke dialed from long distance as well, ultimately ensuring the Australian’s led by 3 at half time in what had become a dour defensive struggle.
Australia moved out to a 6 point lead after another Wigness triple, but the scoring then dried up. Turkey went on an 8-0 run caped by a thunderous Alperen şengün dunk as they edged ahead. The Crocs responded to edge back in front, but Turkey was slowly gaining momentum and tied it up at 53-all heading into the final quarter.
Turkey kept coming, and would eke out an 8 point lead when Ömer Kücük scored on a jumper – their largest of the game – with just over 6 minutes to play. Turkey were impressive in transition, with Australia having trouble slowing them down. Australia was able to regularly get to the charity stripe to keep the scoreboard ticking over and try to get Australia back into the game. Capetola came up with the big and-1 play with 2:14 left to put his country back in front and set up yet another thrilling finish. Turkey responded, and when Jackson missed both free throws , Turkey capitalised at the other end to move up by 5.
The Crocs never gave up, with Lo Buluk scoring with 35 seconds but unable to make the three-point play, closing to within 2. Australia was forced to foul, with Turkey making their free throws,. But another Clarke triple still kept the Aussies in with a shot late, but Turkey kept cool heads to prevail by 4.
While Jackson and Wigness led the scoring for Australia, Lo Buluk finished with 13 points Clarke 12, and Travers had 9 points, 10 rebounds and 4 assists. Turkey’s Mustafa Kurtuldum added a game-high 20 points, receiving 17 points in support from Furkan Haltali.
Australia went so close to contending for a medal in this tournament, going down to Canada in the quarterfinals in a game team and staff would think slipped away from them. Nonetheless, finishing inside the top 8 of the World Cup is no mean feat, and consolidates Australia’s standing as one of the best national programs in the world.
Australia’s best two players at this event were the ‘long-haired Luke’s’ Jackson and Travers. Jackson was one of the most dominant forwards at the event, while Travers one of the most versatile.
1 July: Australia defeated Dominican Republic 73-71
2 July: Australia lost to Turkey 79-81
4 July: Australia defeated Puerto Rico 68-66
5 July: Round of 16: Australia defeated Mali 74-65
7 July: Quarter-Finals: Australia lost to Canada 70-74
8 July: Playoff for 5-8: Australia defeated Croatia 71-54
9 July: Final Position Playoff 5-6:Australia lost to Turkey 77-81