HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Canadian Men’s National Team had won its previous seven games by an average of 26.3 points and by no less than 17. Statistically, it had been the best team at the FIBA Americas tournament by a wide margin.
But with an Olympic bid on the line in the semifinals on Friday, Canada blew it.
Thanks to a last-second foul call on a rebound, Venezuela came back from a seven-point deficit with 3:00 to go to upend Canada 79-78 and earn its first trip to the Olympics since 1992. Aaron Doornekamp committed the foul (which was reviewed to see if it occurred before the buzzer) and Gregory Vargas hit the first of two free throws with three tenths of a second left to put Venezuela up one. He missed the second on purpose and Canada had no chance to get a final shot off.
After a couple of big buckets from the Magic’s Andrew Nicholson and a jumper from the Celtics’ Kelly Olynyk, Canada led 75-68 with three minutes to go. But Venezuela guard Heissler Guillent hit two huge 3-pointers to make it a one-point game. Then Olynyk lost the ball at midcourt and fouled Guillent when trying to recover it.
After Guillent’s two free throws put Venezuela up one, Nicholson hit one of two to tie the game. Venezuela then isolated Guillent on Cory Joseph. He missed the three, but Venezuela got a second chance to win the game with the Doornekamp foul on the rebound.
Olynyk led all scorers with 34 points on 11-for-13 shooting, adding 13 rebounds. Brady Heslip (10 points) was the only other Canadian in double figures. Andrew Wiggins scored nine points on 4-for-11 shooting, while Anthony Bennett went scoreless in 16 minutes. Olynyk and Wiggins combined for 10 turnovers.
Venezuela was playing without Greivis Vasquez and had no NBA players on its roster. Canada had nine.
Forget for a minute the call that put Gregory Vargas on the line with three-tenths of a second left, because it was an uncharacteristic performance from Canada all night that has derailed their Olympic dreams for now.
There were 17 turnovers, many ghastly and unforced; there were a dozen loose balls that weren’t corralled, there were missed rebounds and a general malaise that was in stark contrast to the way Canada had played each night for more than a week.
“It seemed like we were a little bit unsure,” said Triano. “I think this is a great experience for our young kids, Kelly (Olynyk, masterful with 34 points) is one of our most veteran guys, he’s been here before . . . a lot of these other guys have not been in this climate.”
In the second semifinal, Argentina beat host Mexico to earn its fourth straight trip to the Olympics. Mexico led by five at the half, but the game was tied with less than six minutes to go in the fourth quarter when a 6-0 Argentina run gave them a lead they wouldn’t give up.
Luis Scola (18 points and 10 rebounds) and Andres Nocioni (10 and 13) both had double-doubles for Argentina as Manu Ginobili watched courtside. The Bucks’ Jorge Gutierrez had 17 points and four steals for Mexico, but fouled out with more than three minutes to go. After averaging 19 points through Mexico’s first eight games, Gustavo Ayon (eight points) had a quiet night, even though, like both Scola and Nocioni, he played all 40 minutes.
Canada and Mexico will have another chance to qualify for the Olympics in one of next year’s Olympic qualifying tournaments, but will most likely have to go through tougher competition out of Europe.