By BRENT STUBBS
Senior Sports Reporter
The Bahamas men's national basketball team, even with the services of NBA guard Chavano 'Buddy' Hield and college graduate Lourawls 'Tum Tum' Nairn, couldn't find a way to pull off a "must-win" game against the US Virgin Islands.
Needing to win by eight or more points to keep their hopes alive in the FIBA Americas Qualifier for the World Cup, Team Bahamas couldn't hold on as the US Virgin Islands went on a 10-0 surge down the stretch to pull off a 84-74 victory yesterday at the Coliseo Roberto Clemente in Puerto Rico.
With their second win over the Bahamas in the first round of the home-and-away series, the US Virgin Islands sealed the third and final qualifying spot out of Group D. The US Virgin Islands won the opening game 93-85 at the Kendal Isaacs Gymnasium on Monday, November 27.
That leaves the Bahamas winless in five games as they head into their final contest on Monday against the Dominican Republic, who won 96-63 in the first meeting at the Kendal Isaacs Gymnasium on Thursday, February 22.
"Tonight's game was quite a disappointing loss. It was a game that we wanted to win and allow us to advance to the second round of the World Cup Qualifiers," Bowleg said. "The guys also felt that the loss hurt, but we can't hang our heads down. We just have to keep playing and look forward to the next game against the Dominican Republic on Monday.
"You can't have 18 turnovers, especially in the last five minutes. Those guys went to the line 25 times and hit 18 shots. We shot five for seven. We have to be able to get to the free throw line and get some easy points. So the effort was there, but too many missed assignments on defence and some big shots by them and turnovers. That was what killed us."
While the Bahamas has been automatically eliminated from the World Cup Qualifier, Bowleg said they have a chance to drop to the B division, which would allow the Bahamas to play the bottom teams in the qualifier in 2019 for another chance to qualify for the 2020 Olympics.
"We just have to go and play the top teams out of the B league and bottom teams in the World Cup Qualifier to allow us an opportunity to qualify," Bowleg said. "Hopefully we can Deandre Ayton on board and we can keep the nucleus of this team together to get to the next level."
Hield, who just completed his second year in the NBA with the Sacramento Kings and Nairn, now done with his collegiate career at Michigan State, formed a starting back court for head coach Mario Bowleg, assisted by Norris Bain, Kevin Johnson and Chris DeMarco, an assistant coach with the Golden State Warriors.
While Hield finished with a side high 23 points in 37 minutes and 36 seconds on 9-for-24 shooting from the field and 5-for-16 from behind the three-point arc, to go along with 13 rebounds and six assists, Nairn had 13 points on 5-of-9 from the field, 1-of-2 three pointers and 2-for-2 from the free throw line. In 30:19 minutes, he only had one assist.
Michael Carey Jr, one of the key figures in Team Bahamas' first four games played, came off the bench and contributed 17 points in 25:59 minutes as he went 7-for-12 from the field and 3-for-7 from the three-point line. He also had six rebounds, four assists and three steals.
No other player was in double figures for Team Bahamas, but Shaquille Cleare was the next best scorer as he came off the bench with seven points and five rebounds. Kadeem Coleby, in his starting role, had six points, three rebounds and three block shots.
Travis Munnings and Jaraun 'Kino' Burrows, the other two starters, helped out with three and two points respectively.
The US Virgin Islands had three players in double figures as Walter Hodge had 22 points, five assists, four steals and four rebounds; Georgio Milligan had 18 points and four rebounds and Victor Cuthbert added 17 points, six rebounds, three steals and two assists.
Team Bahamas had its last lead at 74-71 on a Nairn jumper with 4:26 go to in the fourth, thanks to a steal and a pass from Kadeem Coleby. But the US Virgin Islands managed to tie the score at 74-74 on a Mulling basket at 3:25.
From there, the US Virgin Islands rook control of the game, forcing Team Bahamas to make some critical mistakes on their shot selection to use their 10-0 spurt to clinch the victory.
The US Virgin Islands led 21-18 at the end of the first quarter, but Team Bahamas went on a 23-19 tear in the second quarter for a slim 41-40 margin at the half. In the third quarter, the US Virgin Islands regrouped and on a 19-16 run in the third, they went up 59-57.
Both teams traded the lead in the fourth quarter before the US Virgin Islands gained the momentum down the stretch when it counted the most for the win.