OSHAWA, Ont. (February 21, 2020) -- The Canadian Senior Men’s National Team opened the FIBA AmeriCup 2021 Qualifiers with an 89-72 victory over the Dominican Republic on Friday. Playing in Oshawa, Ontario at the Campus Recreation and Wellness Center at Ontario Tech University and Durham College, Canada used a huge second-half effort, outscoring Dominican Republic 54-32 in the third and fourth quarters to turn a five-point halftime deficit into a 17-point victory.

“I thought the second half, we were outstanding,” Canada coach Gordie Herbert said. “We lost battles the first half, we lost rebounds the first half. As the game wore on, we started winning a lot more battles. I thought there was a big difference.”

Canada was led by Andrew Nicholson’s 16 points, while Phil Scrubb added 14 and Kaza Kajami-Keane added 12 points to go with eight assists. Victor Liz led all scorers with 18 points while Eloy Vargas added 16 points for Dominican Republic in the loss.

“[Andrew has] been great all week,” Herbert said. “His attitude has been great, and first of all, it's really great that he’s with us."

After trailing by five at the half, Canada moved back in front in the third. With the Dominican Republic leading 55-54 with 2:43 remaining in the third, Canada closed the quarter on an 11-3 run to take a 65-58 lead into the fourth.

“We were hesitant [in the first half], we didn't really get after it, I thought, on both ends of the floor,” Herbert said. “We were much more aggressive [after halftime]. We didn't stand back and wait to see what they were doing, we came out and made things happen.”

Though the Dominican Republic scored first in the fourth, Nicholson went to work with a hook shot and then a dunk less than a minute later to extend Canada’s lead to nine. Nicholson had four dunks in the game, each of them invigorating the hometown crowd.

“My body feels great,” he said. “I thank my teammates for putting me in opportunities to get those.”

When the lead was trimmed to five, Canada called a timeout with seven minutes remaining. Out of the timeout, the team was ready to go on both ends of the floor. After a pair of free throws from Trae Bell-Haynes, Kajami-Keane stepped in to take a charge and then Scrubb hit a three-pointer to extend Canada’s lead back to nine.

“We just found our rhythm,” Nicholson said. “Kept trusting each other. We had a good few days in practice and we just continued to stay the course.”

After the Dominican Republic was called for a five-second violation with 4:41 remaining, Canada took advantage. Aaron Best connected on his third three-pointer of the game to extend Canada’s lead to 12. The Dominican Republic wouldn’t get within single digits again.

“We’ve got to build off how we played in the second half,” Herbert said. “We’ve got to learn from the first half and build off the second half.”

Canada shot 52 percent in the game, thanks to that second-half effort. The Canadians made 13-of-34 attempts from three, helping to overcome a rough night at the free-throw line where the team finished just 12-for-21. Canada’s defence held Dominican Republic to 46 percent shooting, including 5-for-13 from beyond the arc, as well as helping to force 20 turnovers. The Canadians held a 29-7 advantage in points scored off turnovers in the game.

Through the first half, the Dominican Republic maintained a five-point advantage after the first and second quarters. When big man Owen Klassen got into early foul trouble, Canada went to its bench. By the final buzzer, Canada had 11 players in the scoring column and 12 enter the game.

“We have a team like that,” Kajami-Keane said. “[Everyone] just buys into our culture. Next man up.”

The two teams will face each other again on Monday, this time in Dominican Republic.

“Obviously it’s going to be tougher down there,” Herbert said. “We’re going to have to win battles. They’re a very physical team inside. We saw what happened when we won battles in the last 12 minutes of the game. That’s got to be our mindset.”