Following two tough losses to host nation Spain and then Canada, Australia has bounced back to account for Korea to finish 7th at the FIBA U17 World Championships in Zaragoza.
With superior size and strength, Australia were able to overpower and then hold off a fast-finishing Korea to record a narrow 83-76 victory. The tall timber of Matthew Johns (12 points, 6 rebounds) and Samson Froling (9 points, 15 rebounds) proved too much to handle for an undersized yet plucky Korean side, with Patrick Bines leading four Australian's in double-figure scoring with 13 points.
Australia jumped out to an early 4-0 lead with Callum Dalton and Sean Macdonald managing to score. An early Matthew Johns three-ball helped ensure a 7-2 lead and with Australia seemingly in control early. However Korea would bounce back by scoring the next 8 points straight before Johns landed his second trey to stop the slide. Korea re-took the lead momentarily before Patrick Bines connected on a three-pointer of his own to put Australia back ahead. Johns continued to be a threat offensively in scoring again, while Kody Stattman hit from beyond the arc to put Australia ahead 12-20.
Mate Colina and Stattman both swatted shots on two straight Korean possessions in the dying minutes of the first term, however Australia could not capitalise on their good defense offensively. Australia ran the clock down for what they hoped would be the last shot, but their missed three-point attempt was quickly raced up the court for a buzzer-beating lay-up that allowed Korea to close the gap to 16-20 at the first break.
Korea's pace up the court continued to trouble Australia, as they scored the first basket of the second period to close to within 2 points. Kyle Zunic responded immediately, while Bines was getting involved at both ends, making a free throw, causing a steal and setting up Colina inside for a score. Both sides were able to convert when allowed to get into the open court, with Australia doing a better job of defending in the half court. Things got a little sloppy as both Australia and Korea took turns to turn the ball over.
Two made free throws from Froling saw Australia edge ahead by 10. Korea would counter with a triple, but Tom Fullarton will hit one of his own not long after. When Froling followed up a missed layup with a put-back, Australia's lead was out to 12. The Koreans were making a living from baseline drives to try to keep in touch, and would close to within 8 points at the half time break (32-40).
Australia's superior size was causing Korea plenty of headaches, dominating the rebound count and owning the paint. Only their first half 12 turnovers were helping allow the Koreans to stay within reach. Johns with 8 points and 6 rebounds, and Froling with 6 points and 10 rebounds were clearly Australia's most dangerous players.
Fullarton opened strongly for Australia in the second half, making a nice runner through the middle. Korea then landed a triple, but Johns replied with two free throws made. Macdonald made an acrobatic reverse lay-up which was soon after followed by a wide-open three from the top of the key. Dragan Elkaz then scored 5 straight points including a trey to push the lead out to 16 points.
Korea refused to give up, scoring the next 6 points. they were employing a zone defense in trying to force Australia to score from the perimeter. However Australia shared the ball around to find Bines open for the baseline jumper to steady the ship. Despite a late triple from Zunic, Korea had managed to find a way to claw back to within 9 points at the final break.
It was Korea who opened the final period stronger, managed to edge to within 6 points thanks to another triple. Froling made a basket, but then Korea were fouled shooting a three-pointer, making all three from the line to close to within 5. Elkaz connected a corner three thanks to dime from Froling. Froling would be called for an unsportsmanlike foul, resulting in four straight points to Korea.
While Johns would counter with a shot in the paint, Korea would connect on yet another three-pointer to close to within 3 points with 4:47 remaining. Both sides would trade triples, forcing the Koreans to call a timeout with Australia still leading by 5 with 2:35 to play.
Korea with hit yet another three-ball coming out of the timeout, with Fullarton driving through traffic for a reply. Fullarton then found Bines open for the jumper and Australia were back out to a 6 point lead and another Korean timeout. Korea were forced to foul in the last-minute, with Fullarton showing his leadership and ensuring Australia prevailed 83-76.
For Australia, Bines led a spread scoring load with 13 points, while 12 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists. Johns' early scoring saw him add 12 points and 6 rebounds, while Froling contributed a valuable 9 points and 15 rebounds. Australia dominated the glass, winning the rebounding count 52-33, however they were sloppy in handling the ball, turning it over 22 times to Korea's 11.
After tough losses to Spain and Canada, it was a positive way to end the tournament in 7th place. Making the quarterfinals in a World Championship is no mean feat, and head coach Mark Watkins and his team should be proud of the achievement. the win over European champions Bosnia and Herzegovina in the round of 16 was the clear highlight for the Australians. Fullarton and Froling shone as the two class Australian players, however Johns and Elkaz in particular were able to also demonstrate their potential at world-class level.
Australia 83 (Bines 13p; Fullarton 12p, 5r, 4a; Johns 12p, 6r; Macdonald 10p, 3r; Froling 9p, 15r) Korea 76 (J Lee 21p, 4r, 5a; H Lee 18p; Seomoon 13p, 5r)