Sports

The Bahamas beats Mexico

Maybe The Bahamas’ senior men’s national basketball team needs to play all of its games inside the Imperial Ballroom at the Atlantis resort on Paradise Island.

Team Bahamas was as impressive as it’s ever been on Sunday night, building as much as a 23-point lead over Mexico and cruising to a 76-59 win in its second game of the 2021 FIBA (International Basketball Federation) AmeriCup Qualifiers. A late run by Mexico got them to within 10, but The Bahamas remained composed, getting key stops and timely putback layups down the stretch to seal the victory.

Team Bahamas picked up a win in its first appearance inside the Imperial Ballroom at the Atlantis resort and it was the country’s first ever win over Mexico on the senior side.

Mychel Thompson, son of Bahamian basketball legend Mychal “Sweet Bells” Thompson and brother of Golden State Warriors’ star guard Klay Thompson, was huge in the fourth quarter for The Bahamas. He had eight fourth-quarter points and finished with 11 in total on 4-for-7 shooting, to help Team Bahamas finish off Mexico.

With the win, Team Bahamas also spilt the weekend series with Mexico, 1-1, ending the first portion of the qualifiers on a strong note. It was a huge win as The Bahamas lost 75-61 at the Arenas Astros in Guadalajara, Mexico, on Thursday night and now owns the tiebreaker over Mexico via point spread.

It certainly doesn’t get any easier with Puerto Rico and the United States looming in November, and just the top three out of the pool will advance to the 2021 FIBA AmeriCup.

“We played with more intensity than what we played with in Mexico and it paid off for us. Also, we were not in that high altitude where we got fatigued early in the game in Mexico. I always said if we could get teams like Mexico and Puerto Rico here in The Bahamas to play we would fare better and we did. We defended the three-point line well tonight and that was key. We knew that we were at least 10 points better than that team and it showed tonight. I expected for us to win tonight and we did,” said Team Bahamas Head Coach Mario Bowleg.

Point guard Dominick Bridgewater came off the bench and led the way for Team Bahamas with 15 points, including three huge three-point shots in the second half. D’Shon Taylor added 14 points, six rebounds, three assists and three steals; Thompson contributed 11 and eight rebounds; and Travis Munnings scored 10, all in the first half. Team Bahamas captain David Nesbitt added nine and five rebounds and Jaraun “Kino” Burrows contributed eight.

Mexico captain Francisco Cruz paced them in scoring with a game-high 21 points. Omar De Haro added 12 and Marco Ramos contributed nine.

Bowleg said it feels great for the team to get its first win ever over Mexico on the senior side.

“This team always coming back on us so at the beginning of the fourth quarter when we had that huge lead, we knew they were going to make a run, but we hung in there. We kept our composure and they went out there and closed the game out,” said Bowleg. “Our bench is very deep and we feel that a lot of the guys on the bench are just as good talent-wise. The match-ups were important. We knew that the bench was deep enough to come through for us tonight and they did.”

Team Bahamas took the lead for good on a 7-0 scoring run early in the game after Mexico led 5-2 early on. They went ahead 20-15 after one and stretched that lead to 38-30 at the half. A 9-0 scoring run gave The Bahamas a 47-32 lead midway through the third and they surged ahead by 20, 58-38 at the end of three. Mexico got as close as 10 points in the final three minutes of the game, but Team Bahamas held on for the huge win.

“With FIBA rules there is the point spread so we wanted to make sure that we won by more than 14 points and we were able to do that,” said Thompson. “It’s tough because those players have been playing together for years. We put this team together in a week so I was glad that we were able to develop some chemistry and pick up a huge win tonight. Once we moved the ball around, we knew that we would be able to score and that is what we did. It feels great. Anytime you could put the Bahamas jersey on and represent the country where my dad is from and also come out on top that’s a great feeling. I know my dad is paying attention and I know that he is a proud man tonight.”

Drawn into what could be considered the “pool of death” with the United States, Puerto Rico and Mexico in Group D and without its two premier players Chavano “Buddy” Hield and DeAndre Ayton, who are both with their respective teams in the National Basketball Association (NBA), The Bahamas opened its 2020 window of FIBA AmeriCup Qualifiers on a strong note and now owns the tiebreaker over one of its nemesis over the years in basketball, Mexico.

Team Bahamas shot the ball much better than it did in Mexico, particularly in the first three quarters. Former University of Louisiana-Monroe (ULM) star Munnings had all 10 of his points in the first half for The Bahamas, including a pair of three-point shots. Taylor dropped in eight in the first half, including a couple more three-point shots to lead The Bahamas to a 38-30 lead at the break, matching its biggest lead of the game up to that point.

With Munnings picking up his fourth foul early in the third quarter, it was up to Taylor, Thompson and others to pick up the mantle and they did. Taylor hit a pair of free shots with 6:58 to go in the third to give The Bahamas its first double-digit lead of the game (42-32). Moments later, a vicious one-handed baseline jam by Burrows increased the lead to 14, 46-32, and gave Team Bahamas all the momentum. They ended the third quarter up by 20 and led by as much as 23 in the final quarter before Mexico charged back. However, it was too little too late for the Mexicans.

The Bahamas shot 44.3 percent from the field (27-for-61), compared to just 31.7 percent (20-for-63) for Mexico. They were also better from distance, connecting on 9-for-23 compared to 7-for-25 for Mexico. The Bahamas forced 19 turnovers from Mexico and dished out 18 assists, compared to 13 for Mexico.

It doesn’t get any easier for The Bahamas, as the team will play Puerto Rico and the United States in November – the U.S. on November 27 and Puerto Rico on November 30, both on the road.

In the FIBA World rankings, the U.S. is the undisputed number one team in the world with superstar players at every position; Puerto Rico is at number 17 and Mexico is at number 25. The Bahamas is ranked at number 60.

FIBA’s new home and away series will allow for some of the best players in this region to come to The Bahamas for basketball. All 16 national federations will have a chance to host high-quality games, thereby activating local markets and increasing popularity and excitement among the fans.

The FIBA AmeriCup is regarded as the most important continental competition for FIBA in the Americas region. The 2021 tournament is a qualifier for the 2023 FIBA World Cup.

The U.S. defeated Puerto Rico, 95-73, in Washington, DC on Sunday and leads the group with a 2-0 win-loss record. The Bahamas and Mexico are both 1-1 and Puerto Rico is 0-2. Group play continues in November.

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Sheldon Longley

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.

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