Australia have recorded their first win of the FIBA U17 World Championship, working hard for a 77-62 win over Finland.
Needing to win by 13 points or more to secure third place in Group C and avoid facing the USA until a possible match up in the gold medal game, Australia earned the win behind the versatile play of sweet-shooting big man Matthew Johns (17 points) and all-round class from team Captain Tom Fullarton (19 points and 8 rebounds). Australia withstood every Finnish challenge, taking control in the third term and motoring ahead on the final quarter to secure the 15 point win.
Finland opened the scoring with a move inside, but Callum Dalton immediately answered at the other end. Australia's opponent employed early full court pressure but unlike in earlier games, were able to play with more poise and control to overcome it.
Matthew Johns was active in the paint, while Samson Froling displayed his outstanding passing skills by feeding Patrick Bines with a slick interior pass in traffic for the lay-up to edge Australia ahead 10-7 early. Fullarton extended that lead when he made his first foray into the paint count, however Australia's scoring would dry up as Finland went on an 11-0 run to open up a 19-12 lead. Lachlan Dent halted their run by making one of two from the line but Australia would trail by 6 points at quarter time (13-19).
Johns started the period strongly, making two strong moves to the basket as Australia and Finland traded baskets. Dragan Elkaz scored his first basket of the game, while Fullarton continued to find ways to score inside. Kyle Zunic drew a charge on a Finnish fast break, wearing a protective face mask to protect a broken nose. Offensively, both teams went quiet as the shots dried up and turnovers were racked up.
Zunic continued to play well, and when he connected on a three-ball saw Australia lock it up at 30-all. Both teams were a little untidy, while Australia had its issues at the free throw line once again. However a Johns make from the charity stripe saw Australia earn a 1-point lead (31-30) at the main change.
Australia opened strongly in the third quarter, with Fullarton draining a long two. Dalton then blocked a shot at one end, then followed up a missed shot for a put-back at the other to open up a 5-point lead. The pace of the game increased as Finland fought back strongly, re-taking the lead 40-38 on a big three-pointer. Johns responded with a three-ball of his own in what was becoming an entertaining contest. Johns then drained his second triple not long after to keep Australia ahead by 3 points.
Things became a little scrappy, with Finland committing two shot-clock violations while Australia were unable to capitalise at the other end. Bines came up with an offensive board and score, converting on the three-point play. Dent was then fouled on a three-point attempt, making all three shots from the line to push the score out 52-45 at the final break.
Elkaz made a strong drive early in the final term, while Fullarton made a tough lay-in of his own. Sean Macdonald also finished in the paint after a defensive stop, and when Fullarton was found open in the corner for a triple, Australia had opened up a 10-point lead with just over 6 minutes to play. Johns' third triple and Dent's layup saw Australia push the lead out to 16 points, from there Australia cruised to a 77-62 win.
Johns' versatility with his ability to score inside and out while putting the ball on the floor caused Finland problems all game. He would finish with 17 points (5/10 FG) alongside 8 rebounds, while Fullarton was all class in delivering a game-high 19 points (6/9 FG) with 8 rebounds and 2 steals. Froling was also very good in adding 7 points and 10 rebounds off the bench.
Australia were made to work hard for the victory, and proved far more efficient offensively inside the arc (58% 2PT FG) while pulled down 12 more rebounds than their opponents. Depth of scoring also proved telling, with Australia's bench adding 23 points compared to Finland's 9, somewhat helping to cover for Australia's 25 turnovers and poor free throw shooting, albeit improved, at 67.65%.
With the win, Australia are now drawn to meet Bosnia and Herzegovina in the Round of 16 on Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning, with the winner set to take on either Spain or Chinese Taipei.
Bosnia and Herzegovina finished second in Group D with a 2-1 record behind France and will prove tough competition, boasting the tournament's leading scoring in Dzanan Musa who has been scorching opponents for 29 points per game. Slowing him down will be an important step towards a possible Australian victory.
Australia 77 (Fullarton 19p, 8r, 2s; Johns 17p, 3r; Froling 7p, 10r, 4a) Finland 62 (Valtonen 18p, 6r, 3a; Jaakkola 10p, 6r; Waxlax 10p, 4r, Heinonen 10p, 3r)