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Tough loss for The Bahamas

The Baha Mar-sponsored Team Bahamas needed to win by 10 points in its crucial match against the United States Virgin Islands (USVI) in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Thursday, but ended up losing by 10, and as a result, will not advance to the second round of the 2019 FIBA (International Basketball Federation) World Cup Qualifiers.

Once again Walter Hodge was a thorn in the national team’s side, erupting for 22 points, including 4-for-6 shooting from three-point range, and six huge points in the fourth quarter when The Bahamas needed to shut him down the most. The Bahamas needed to have a strong performance on both ends of the floor, particularly in the fourth quarter, but were inconsistent offensively and had no answer for Hodge defensively for much of the game. The USVI’s sharp shooting elusive guard led them to an 84-74 victory. With the loss, The Bahamas fell to a winless 0-5 in the qualifiers and will not move on to the next round.

They will play their final game of the first round of the qualifiers against the Dominican Republic (DR) on Monday.

“It was quite a disappointing loss. It was one that we wanted to advance to the second round of the qualifiers, but we can’t hang our heads down. We have to keep playing and try to win the next game. You just can’t have 18 turnovers, particularly in the fourth quarter in crucial moments and expect to come out on top. We just have to continue fighting and hopefully we could get a win in the Dominican Republic and build off that,” said Team Bahamas Head Coach Mario Bowleg.

National Basketball Association (NBA) player Chavano “Buddy” Hield was respectable for The Bahamas, but at the end of the day, he was asked to do too much offensively. The Sacramento Kings shooting guard finished with a game-high 23 points but shot just 9-for-24 from the floor, including 5-for-16 from distance. He added 13 rebounds and six assists but committed a third of The Bahamas’ total turnovers with six. On defense, the USVI had a player in Hield’s face almost every time he touched the ball and doubled him in spurts. Team Bahamas had no answer.

“We became too stagnant on offense and began to rely too much on Buddy,” said Bowleg. “The guys had opportunities to do things with the basketball that they could have done, and that would have taken some of the pressure off Buddy, but they just didn’t do it. We were trying to get the ball in Buddy’s hands too much when that was not the intent of our offense. We wanted to get the open man the ball and try to get it inside, and then get Buddy coming off some curves. Other guys had the ball and they were looking for Buddy too much. The defense was locked in on Buddy and forced some turnovers. Lack of movement on offense allowed their defense to collapse on us and it was hard for us to recover from that.”

The Bahamas came out flat in the opening quarter, falling behind by 13 early. Hodge hit three of his first four three-point attempts, and Cuthbert Victor was a menace down low, leading the USVI to a 17-4 lead early in the game. Victor finished with 17 points for the USVI on 6-for-11 shooting, and added six rebounds and three steals.

Behind Hield and Michael Carey, The Bahamas fought back and trailed just 21-18 after the first quarter. Carey came out on fire, scoring 15 first-half points but he disappeared in the second half. He came off the bench to go 6-for-7 in the first half, but finished 7-for-12 for the game for 17 points. Carey added six rebounds, four assists and three steals. The game went back and forth in the second quarter, with The Bahamas going ahead by as much as four, and holding on to a slim 41-40 lead at the half.

Once again, in the third, neither team pulled away from each other. The Bahamas went ahead by as many as five in the third, but the USVI kept fighting back, and eventually took a 59-57 lead into the final quarter.

It was the all-important fourth quarter when The Bahamas fell apart, particularly late in the game. Point guard Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn Jr. finally came to life for The Bahamas in the fourth, Hield was sporadic, and Shaquille Cleare had his moments down low, but no one else stepped up. The USVI got a spark from 19-year-old Nicolas Claxton on both ends of the floor in the second half, and an aggressive approach late in the game enabled them to surge ahead and pull away for the victory.

The Bahamas shot 40.28 percent from the floor (29-for-72) compared to 42.65 percent (29-for-68) for the USVI. The rebounding numbers were even with The Bahamas grabbing 51 rebounds and the USVI collecting 50 rebounds. The Bahamas had 18 turnovers compared to 16 for the USVI. The Bahamas might have attempted too many three pointers as they finished 11-for-32, while the USVI shot 8-for-19, and they certainly didn’t get to the free throw line enough as they shot just 5-for-7 from the charity stripe compared to 18-for-25 for the USVI.

“They went to the line and hit 18 free throws, and we shot 5-for-7. We have to be able to get to the basket to get easy points and get to the free throw line,” said Bowleg. “The effort was there, but missed assignments on defense once again to go along with big shots by them and turnovers on our end killed us. Our effort was somewhat good, but not good enough to get a win. Thanks be to God for all that He has done.”

Other than Hield and Carey, Nairn was the only other player in double figures for The Bahamas, but this came after going scoreless in the first half. He finished with 13 points on 5-for-9 shooting. Cleare was the next highest scorer for The Bahamas with seven.

Behind Hodge, Georgio Milligan came off the bench to score 18 for the USVI. Hodge, Milligan and Victor were the only players in double figures for the USVI who will now move on to play Canada on Monday night.

The Bahamas will end their time in the qualifiers against the undefeated Dominican Republic on Monday. That game will be played at 8 p.m. at the Palacio de los Deportes in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

Out of Group D of the qualifiers for the FIBA Americas region, the DR is a perfect 4-0, Canada sits in second at 3-1, and the USVI is now 2-3. The Bahamas fell to a winless 0-5.

With the exception of a couple players who just graduated from university in the United States, all of the members of Team Bahamas play professionally. However, they rarely get a chance to play with each other, and it showed on Thursday as they appeared to be out of sync, racking up 18 turnovers.

The team knew they needed to win by a certain amount of points to have any chance of advancing to the second round of the qualifiers, but there appeared to be no sense or urgency, particularly early in the game and late in the fourth. The team came into the game with a lot of hype, having brought in players such as Hield, Travis Munnings, Nairn, and the Coleby brothers, Kadeem and Dwight, for this window, but at the end of the day, they were simply out-hustled by a more determined and gritty USVI team. Perhaps, the team could get some consolation about making a possible run for the Olympics in 2020 in Tokyo, Japan.

“Our chances of making the world cup are over, but we are still in position to drop in the B division which would allow us to play the bottom teams of the world cup qualifiers in 2019 to have a chance to qualify for the Olympics in 2020, so we are still alive for the Olympics,” said Bowleg. “We will continue to build and try to get DeAndre Ayton (No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft) and others to get on board. We just have to continue to get better and hopefully we will eventually be victorious.”

It will undoubtedly go down as one of the more critical and disappointing losses in the history of men’s basketball for the country, but as Bowleg mentioned, the team is still alive for a run at the Olympics in 2020. Hopefully, all of the top players in the country will be able to contribute and that the country will experience success.

Sports Editor at The Nassau Guardian
Sheldon Longley joined The Nassau Guardian in January 2001 as a sports reporter. He was promoted to sports editor in 2008. Sheldon has an extensive background in sports reporting. He covered three Olympic Games and three world championships, along with multiple smaller regional and local games.
Education: College of The Bahamas, Associates in Accounting
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