The Australian Crocs have survived a nail-biting opening contest against the Dominican Republic at the 2018 FIBA Under-17 World Cup for men in Argentina, holding on for a desperate 73-71 victory.
Australia were forced to reel in a 16 point third quarter deficit, going on a 15-0 run to open the final quarter as part of a 18-0 overall run, to take the lead in the final quarter before holding on in a frantic finish. Joel Capetola sparked the Australian's in the second half, finishing with a team-best 14 points, while Luke Jackson delivered a 11 point and 14 rebound double-double with 4 assists.
Both teams opened slowly, attempting to overcome first game nerves, yet it was the Australian's who managed to gain the early ascendancy. Kobe Williamson was an efficient offensive presence, while Capetola and Luke Travers got on the scoreboard early. A Capetola dunk was punctuated by Campbell Green lay-up, and when Travers scored at the siren, the Crocs had opened up a 6 point quarter time lead (20-14).
Australia were pushed out of their game-plan in the second period, with the Dominican Republic lifting a gear courtesy of Isaiah Rivera and Alexis Reyes. Williams drained a much-needed three-pointer from the top of the key, but apart from that bucket the Crocs went ice-cold. Turnovers and a lack of penetration and structure offensively hurt the Crocs, struggling to make shots from beyond the three-point arc. Meanwhile their opponents were running in transition and scoring relatively freely at the other end, with Australia seemingly being beaten at their own game.
Jean Claude Berroa and David Garcia combined to drain back-back treys to push the deficit out to 10 points. Tamuri Wigness started to get into the game, and Lo Buluk traded his perimeter shooting for drives, and it was keeping the Crocs in touch, trailing by 10 points at half time (34-44).
Unfortunately for Australia, the Crocs were slow to adjust to open the second half. Their opponents continued to force turnovers and capitalise in transition, with Rivera finding Garcia for the lay-up to push the margin out to 16 and in turn forcing an early timeout by head coach Justin Schueller.
An offensive rebound and score by Luke Jackson following by a Hunter Clarke three-ball saw the Crocs stem the flow as they slowly looked to claw their way back into the game. Their defensive lifted along with their aggressiveness offensively, and it was the Dominican's whose shots began to miss. Travers picked off a pass and went the full distance for the breakaway dunk, helping the Aussies gain some momentum and getting the margin back to single digits. Wigness found Capetola and then Lo Buluk open for consecutive three-pointers either side of a Capetola blocked shot, to see their country close to within 6 points and with a sniff at the final break.
Australian Crocs 2018 FIBA U17 World Cup | Credit: FIBA
The Aussies took total control of the contest, going on a 15-0 run to open the fourth quarter capped by a Capetola three-point play to open up a 9 point lead. It was not until the last 4 minutes of the game that the Dominican Republic regained their composure, and from there it became a tense struggle.
The turnovers that plagued the Australians early started to return, and when Capetola was called fro an unsportsmanlike foul, the Dominican's had closed back to within 2 with just over 2 minutes remaining. Both sides would trade blows as the game went right down to the wire.
Capetola came up with a crucial blocked shot on Emmanuel Cristostimo's three-point attempt inside the last-minute, but Berroa converted a lay-up on a Wigness turnover with just 26 seconds left to retake the lead. Then Travers came up with two big plays to put his country back in front, first calmly converting both free throws after being fouled on a drive, before blocking a drive at the other end. In a frantic finish, Luke Jackson came up with a steal after the Dominican Republic pulled down the offensive rebound, but could only make 1-2 from the charity stripe after he was fouled. Up by just 2, the Dominican Republic had just 1 more possession to either tie or go for the win.
Garcia attempted to be the hero for the Dominican's, stepping out to shoot a three from the top of the key that was short. Lo Buluk seemingly had control of the rebound but threw it away, with Rivera coming up with the desperation steal, but unable to get a winning shot away, resulting in a narrow 2 point Australian win.
It was a contest Australia were lucky to win, with their opponents forcing them into 24 turnovers, giving up 22 fast break points as a result compared to just 12 points and 15 turnovers going the other way.
Providing solid support to Capetola and Jackson was Travers who also chimed in with 11 points and 7 rebounds, while Wani Lo Buluk added 10 points and 5 rebounds in a game in which Australia shot a paltry 4-21 from three-point territory (19.05%).
Berroa led the Dominican Republic with 20 points and 3 rebounds and 4 steals, while Reyes had 13 points and 9 rebounds, and Rivera added 13 points and 5 rebounds.
The Crocs have little time to regroup, with their next game against Turkey at 4:30am AEST on Monday morning. Turkey lost their opening game to Puerto Rico 68-76, and will be desperate to register their first win of the tournament. The game will be streamed live to The Pick and Roll's Facebook page.
The Pick and Roll will be streaming every Australian game LIVE thanks to FIBA with commentary provided by ‘the voice of the QBL’ Jon Guarna who will be joined by Damian Arsenis via Facebook.
1 July: Australia vs Domincan Republic @ 2:15am 2 July: Australia vs Turkey @ 4:30am 4 July: Australia vs Puerto Rico @ 2:15am 5 July: Round of 16 7 July: Quarter-Finals 8 July: Semi-Finals 9 July: Medal Games