GOLD COAST, Australia — After the euphoria of a buzzer-beater semifinal win over New Zealand, there was a reality check for Canada on Sunday in the men’s basketball gold-medal game at the Commonwealth Games.
The young Canadian side was thumped 87-47 by host Australia in a contest whose outcome was never in doubt. The Boomers had beaten Canada 95-55 in the tournament opener for both teams. But Canada’s progress throughout the competition was recognized going into the final — one Australian bookmaker had Canada as a 33.5-point underdog.
Both teams were without their top talent. But while Australians fielded a team comprised of professionals from the domestic National Basketball League, Canada’s squad was made up of university players.
"They’re certainly an experienced group of veteran pros and I thought they showed it tonight," Canada coach Kirby Schepp said of the Australians. "Obviously very well-coached.
"For us, especially with our young guys, just a great experience. Playing Australia in Australia in a meaningful international game, (it’s) priceless experience for these young guys to have that."
The medal was Canada’s first in men’s basketball at the Commonwealth Games. Canada did not enter a team at the Melbourne Games in 2006, the only other time basketball was on the program.
It was also medal No. 82 for Canada at these games (15 gold, 40 silver, 27 bronze), tying the Canadian total four years ago in Glasgow (32-16-34).
Basketball will be on the program at the 2022 games in Birmingham, England, but it will be the three-on-three variety.
Sunday’s game went south in the second quarter when Canada, which trailed 20-10 after the first, was outscored 25-9. The Canadians missed their first nine shots of the quarter as Australia went on a 14-0 run to increase the lead to 34-10 before a delighted crowd at the Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre for the 11:30 a.m. local time start.
Australia led 45-19 at halftime, outrebounding the Canadians 30-10 (including 10-1 in offensive rebounds). Canada shot 6-for-27 in the first 20 minutes with Ryerson’s Ammanuel Diressa and UBC’s Conor Morgan a combined two-for-17.
The Canadians showed some spark to start the third but normal service resumed and Australia led 63-29 going into the final quarter.
Carleton’s Munis Tutu led Canada with 10 points. Chris Goulding had 11 for Australia, which had seven players score eight or more points.
Mamadou Gueye, the University of Alberta product who sank the winning basket against New Zealand, was held scoreless and went to the locker-room in the second half after a shoulder knock.
"It didn’t come out the way we wanted but I think it’s just a great learning experience for us," said Gueye, who reported his shoulder was fine after the match.
Gueye leaves with a silver medal and a priceless memory thanks to his long-range buzzer-beater Saturday.
"The most important shot in my career," he said. "I"ll always remember that."
Morgan, held to four points on one-of-nine shooting, also savoured the games experience.
"The journey that I’ve been on with these guys in these three weeks here has kind of felt like a full season almost. We’ve come together and they’re people that I’ll call up the rest of my life," he said. "Even though we didn’t win gold, I think (the semifinal win) was one of the craziest games of my life and it’s one I’ll remember for the rest of my life."
Canada never led Sunday and shot just 27 per cent (17-of-63) — 23 per cent (6-of-26) from three-point range. It was outrebounded 56-31 and outscored 36-20 in the paint.
After a 1-2-0 preliminary round that saw a win over Nigeria (82-62) and losses to Australia (95-55) and New Zealand (82-60), the Canadians dispatched England 97-79 in a qualifying final and then avenged the earlier loss to New Zealand by shocking the Tall Backs 88-86.
While acknowledging the victory over New Zealand was a physical affair, Schepp refused to blame the loss on a hangover from the wild semifinal.
"I wouldn’t blame it on that. I would give more credit to Australia for kind of punching us in the mouth early," said the University of Manitoba coach.
Canada didn’t get have much luck on the day. At least nine Canadian shots rimmed out.
While the final didn’t really reflect it, the Canadians came a long way on a games journey that started March 26 at the Vancouver airport.
"From that point forward our only focus was ‘Can we get better every single day that we’re here,"’ said Schepp. "And I’m really proud of the guys. I think we did that."
The Aussies won five straight at the tournament — outscoring the opposition by a combined 185 points.
The Australian squad did not lack experience.
Goulding (Melbourne United) and Damian Martin (Perth Wildcats) were part of Australia’s Rio Olympic team while seven players helped the Boomers win the FIBA Asia Cup last year. The roster featured five NBL rookies of the year.
Brad Newley (Sydney Kings) was part of the Australian team that won gold at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne.
New Zealand, meanwhile, was left dealing with the semifinal loss, which the New Zealand Herald called an "embarrassing defeat."
"Normally, a loss to Canada would not provoke shock. Canada are one of the best basketball nations in the world — but this particular iteration is not. With all their professional players unavailable, Canada selected a team of local collegiate players, from the likes of the University of Calgary," the newspaper reported.
Australia won the women’s gold on Saturday, defeating England 99-55 to cap an unbeaten run at the tournament. Canada lost 74-58 to New Zealand in the bronze-medal match.