PANAMA CITY — Canada's men's basketball team remains undefeated in World Cup qualifying with a 106-50 rout of Panama on Monday.
Detroit Pistons forward Kelly Olynyk scored 18 points in just 17 minutes of action, while Kevin Pangos added 17 and the Canadians, the only unbeaten team in the Americas zone, improved to 8-0 and all but locked down their spot in the 2023 FIBA World Cup.
Melvin Ejim added 15 points, Zach Edey chipped in with 15 points and seven rebounds, and Kassius Robertson finished with 11.
Jhivvan Jameel Jackson Melendez had 16 points to top the Panamians. Eric Alexander Romero James chipped in with 10 points.
Canada took the floor Monday already a step closer to qualifying, thanks to Venezuela's 76-72 win over the Dominican Republic earlier in the night. The Canadians then needed both to beat Panama and the Bahamas to upset Argentina in the late game. While they beat Panama, the Bahamas couldn't beat Argentina, losing 95-77.
The Canadians were coming off a 99-87 win over Argentina on Thursday in Victoria, their toughest qualifying test so far.
They established their dominance early Monday, racing out to a 16-0 lead before Panama finally got on the scoreboard with 5:56 to play in the first quarter. Canada's smothering defence held Panama to 3-for-16 shooting, and forced five turnovers. The Canadians took a 33-7 lead into the second.
Score differential counts in FIBA tiebreaks and so there was no letup by Canada in the second quarter. Pangos' three-pointer 50 seconds before the break gave the Canadians a 42-point lead.
Edward Lopez's buzzer-beater from beyond half court gave the Panamanian fans in Arena Roberto Duran something to cheer about, and sliced Canada's lead to 64-25 heading into halftime.
The Canadians continued to build their lead, and were up 92-36 with one quarter to play.
Coach Nick Nurse was able to go deep into his bench for much of the second half, as young players such as 20-year-old Edey, a seven-foot-four forward for Purdue, were given important playing time.
The Canadians dominated across the board, forcing 20 Panama turnovers. They outrebounded the home team 50-34, shot 56.7 per cent from the field to Panama's 34.1 per cent.
Canada was without three NBA players on Monday: Oklahoma City guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who was Canada's best player in the three games he played this summer, Utah Jazz guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Detroit Pistons guard Cory Joseph. Trae Bell-Haynes, Abu Kigab and Jean-Victory Mukama replaced them.
Monday's game was the final time Nurse had NBA players at his disposal, as the final two qualifying windows are in the middle of the NBA season, Nov. 7-15, 2022, and Feb. 20-28, 2023. Nurse likely won't coach in those windows either, as he'll be busy with the Toronto Raptors.
The top three in each of Group E and F, and the top fourth-place finisher, will advance to the 32-team 2023 FIBA World Cup from Aug. 25 to Sept. 10, 2023, in the Philippines, Japan and Indonesia.
The World Cup is a direct qualifier for the 2024 Paris Olympics. Four final Olympic spots will also be decided in last-chance qualifiers, something Canada wants to avoid after the team's heartbreaking elimination by the Czech Republic in a last-chance qualifier in 2021 in Victoria.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 29, 2022.
The Canadian Press